Gowns Red State

[Cardboard; 2007]

Styles: noise, folk, electronics, emotional outpourings
Others: Gowns, Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground

Gowns -- the duo of Ezra Buchla and Erika Anderson, aided by percussionist Corey Fogel -- have crafted a revealing debut effectively haunted with the disparate elements of noise, no-wave, and folk. “Red State” manifests itself through a series of narratives shifting restlessly through the conceivably endless exploration of human drama, frustration, and hopelessness. The result is an distinct and defiantly individual language fraught with the illusory memories of the psyche.

“White Like Heaven,” assuredly the centerpiece of the album, is a brutal, teeth-baring recount of desolation, unflinching even at its most observational base; building layer upon layer, it creates a terrifying halo of helplessness emphatically shot through with the anger that arises from the lack of choice. It is impossible not to respond sympathetically to the frustration expressed in the lyrical and musical textures, as the listener is forcibly addressed and situated within the instances that are put forth and ultimately examined by Anderson's words.

Moments of intimate revelation and question thread through “Red State,” presented with little reservation or inhibition. “Subside” whispers across a flickering hum-and-pulse backdrop in eerily haunted fashion, descending into a horror show of gasps and muffled words -- nothing is innocent, indeed. “Clawless” is paralyzing, every word falling from Anderson's mouth, landing upon you, crushing in exquisite grief. “Mercy Springs” builds upon an ominous throb of electronics and multi-tracked vocals into a rage-fueled climax that devastates all in its presence. It serves as a fitting document to delirious rage, and showcases Buchla's finest vocal moment.

Leaving little concealed, the exploration of memories and dreams is nearly exhausting by albums end, though this is more compliment than criticism. Every sonic crackle, hum, and wheeze further dramatizes these vocal intimacies, at times triggering a sense of claustrophobia in passages as the emotional weight bears down. In others hands, this work might be cluttered with affectations that would cheapen the effect, but in the hands of Gowns, it is nothing short of a revelatory purging of the conflicted soul.

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