Collections of Colonies of Bees fa.ce (a

[Crouton; 2002]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: experimental, avant-garde, improvisational, indie rock
Others: Pele, Raccoons, Gastr Del Sol

The prolific Pele boys (Jon Mueller and Chris Rosenau) are at it again. The brilliantly titled fa.ce (a is Collection of Colonies of Bees third release, and it's the only one in print. Most of the elements heard on the band's debut full-length is here: acoustic guitars, electronics, lap steel, piano, drums. But comparing the album to its predecessors is not necessary; the album stands on its own without needing to know the history of its precursors. Plus, I have never and may never hear their second album, Rance; so, although there are major differences between their eponymous debut and their current release, it would be pointless to assume anything about the relative position of Rance in their catalog. Whether fa.ce (a was their first or fifth album, the fact remains that its one of the most direct and poignant releases ever to be instilled upon Crouton fans, and it's one of the year's best.

As with most Crouton releases, listening to the album is quite a journey. Shifting seamlessly from acoustic folk to minimal electronics to computer vocal keyboards to more electronics, the album proves both confident and fully realized; it is easily Crouton's most cohesive work. The juxtaposition of the sparse organic playing and electronics is not only obvious, but obtrusive. Whereas most electronic/organic albums are struggling to find balance between the two elements as a seamless culmination, Mueller and Rosenau employ the two elements to create a dichotomy, contrasting the elements rather than trying to carelessly blend them together. This idea is exemplified throughout the entire album but most notably on its final (and only titled) track, "Mu:rder." The song begins with harshly plucked harmonics and intricate fingerpicking on an acoustic guitar, segueing into warm minor chords. The chords repeat as more sounds are slowly added, creating a graceful ambience. Within the last three minutes of the eleven minute song, recordings of a damaged keyboard circuit and sounds of a computer melting down make their foray. These electronic sounds violently protrude from the music, nearly tripled the volume of the music underneath. This blatant contrast between natural and unnatural is as beautiful as it is disturbing and makes for one of the most captivating songs of its kind.

On the other end of the album, track one proves quite different from the album's swan song. The song is not unlike that of a Pele song, albeit on acoustic guitar. Mueller proves that he has mastered the triplets on his drumset, as Rosenau fingerpicks a folky tune on his trusted 6-string. A fairly strong song, but after hearing the entire album, the inclusion of track one is surprising considering the obvious accessibility and rhythmic pulse not heard on the remainder of the album. Aside from track one, the subsequent songs are simply stunning and beautiful, minimal and tasteful. They have an almost histrionic quality, using instruments and silence to bring their point across. Track three is one of the most naturally lush and beautiful songs ever written on an acoustic guitar; the song unfolds slowly and quietly with an increasing infliction. Track four is replete with unusual sounds, varying from synthetic vocals and electronically manipulated guitar, to natural and artificial birds chirping. By far the most interesting and compelling of the batch, track four anchors the album to the ground, providing a number for the other songs to add or subtract from.

It's true that I have a high respect for nearly everything Crouton has released, but trust me, this is not devotion at its blindest. Even without the credible players and label, the album is one of the most beautifully constructed releases I've heard in a long time; my praise would be bestowed even if Kid Rock and Santa Claus created the music. And since this is a Crouton release, you can be sure that your release is unique. This time limited to 1000 copies, fa.ce (a is unique in that it's printed on pages of stock photography books, making each cover different from one another. My cover features pictures of children, a naked model, and a magnetic horseshoe. What's on yours?

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8. Mu:rder

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