Shark Quest Gods and Devils

[Merge; 2004]

Styles: instrumental folk, bluegrass, neoclassical
Others: Calexico, Yo La Tengo

The most fascinating aspect of instrumental music is the requirement that the listener use his or her imagination to create a story that is not simply provided through the use of lyrics. Some may even insist that words limit the ability of a listener to use imagination to define the meaning of a song on his or her own terms. However, an instrumental outfit needs to be convincing enough in its presentation to ensure that a listener will be inspired to develop a story to fit the songs and continue to listen to that story. Shark Quest's unique approach to instrumentation makes it almost impossible not to conjure up fascinating images in one's head while listening to their music. Their somewhat baroque style and use of unconventional and exotic instruments, such as the mandolin and marimba, set the stage for strange tales from other worlds and eras.

"The Rosetta Barrage," Gods and Devils opening track, immediately had me picturing, of all things, a 19th century village festival. I saw children dancing around a bonfire while the elders laughed and clapped along to the sounds of rollicking guitars and mandolins, while drums pounded in the background. Forbidden love struck me as the theme to "Sin the Moon," with its somber yet surprisingly hopeful tone, while "Katherine of Krakow" had an almost antique carnival-like feel to it. It's atypical reactions like these to the songs of Shark Quest that make the album so intriguing, original, and even creepy at times.

Gods and Devils isn't an album I'd pick up for personal reflection, for cruising in the car, or even for pleasant background music while hanging out with friends. Its uniqueness makes it difficult to apply the sound to a time or situation that's usually accompanied by a CD in the stereo. But when you simply want to escape the monotony of life, pop in Gods and Devils and be transported to an entirely different world altogether.

1. The Rosetta Barrage
2. Sin the Moon
3. Three Ivy Leaves
4. Shivers
5. Katherine of Krakow
6. Gibbous Orisha
7. Furies on Fire