Cerberus Shoal The Life & Times of Cerberus Shoal and the Magic Carpathians (split)

[North East Indie; 2004]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: free-from instrument manipulation, drone-experimentation, avant-rock
Others: Sun City Girls, Sunburned Hand of the Man, No-Neck Blues Band, Faun Fables

I enjoy "drone" more than the average bear, and generally in all of its flavors. The same goes for Brian Eno's ambient explorations and Merzbow's grinding assaults. This style of music explores aspects that others take for granted, such as the listener's role in shaping the experience. While more conventional artists are forced to rely on complexity and density to make a work compelling enough to listen to multiple times, a listener can find new layers in this breed of music merely by altering their level of attentiveness. It adds a whole new dimension to music when an artist can artfully manipulate this process.

Cerberus Shoal and The Magic Carpathians have done that on this record, The Life & Times of Cerberus Shoal and the Magic Carpathians. The surprising thing is the way they make you neglect such an interesting panorama of sound. While usually you can expect a one-dimensional approach on any given track of drone, the songs here regularly shift and swell in seeming response to your waning attention. Just as you slip into glassy-eyed disinterest, the music reminds the more aware listener that more interesting segments may be due. But, these reminders are subtle enough that your attention isn't necessarily demanded or seized; it gently enables that great feeling when you discover new strata of sound in a favorite song.

According to this phenomenon in the songs, the album as a whole takes on a similar structure. It opens with the slightly obnoxious "Pre-Face," which tells the tale of this recording's evolution from a post-performance swapping of e-mails to the swapping and manipulation of tracks between these two tribes. The next song, "Respoonsed," is the epitome of desolation, recalling George Crumb and allowing your mind to drift from constant awareness. "Continuumed" follows, housing a chestnut of vibrancy which takes hold of your sonic gaze. The culprit is a decidedly medieval and arcane meander, with the LP's only vocals alternating between a chant and quirky utterances, with spoken parts interloping at times. The final track, J.B.E.G.S., sounds like a midnight ritual held in a clearing in the wilderness, which is more captivating than the track that leads into the centerpiece, but they are definitely a pair.

Cerberus Shoal and the Magic Carpathians present us with an album that teeters between the two worlds of active and passive, which is unfortunately uncommon. One might say it's not as "challenging" as it could be, but it did more to facilitate contemplation of the nature of music and listening than a lot that's out there. It makes for an interesting listen and would make a good introduction for the uninitiated.

1. Pre-Face
2. Respoonsed
3. Continuumed
4. J.B.E.G.S.