Butterflies and Hurricanes

A Sweet Quasimodo Between Black Vampire Butterflies for Maybeck,
Charlemagne Palestine [Cold Blue]

Another funk-tastic collection of spunky summer tunes from hip-hop club-pop virtuoso Charlemagne 'Charley' Palestine. Each and every track of this 12-strong epic manages to deliver all the right punches while simultaneously totally stretching the boundaries of the 3-minute pop song. Album highlight and lead single, 'luv b4 u2', manages 4 minutes and 13 seconds. Genius.

Okay, so this is not most accessible CD I've ever heard. I'm willing to throw my hands up here and admit that I'm not a big classical music fan. For those of you as new to Charlemagne Palestine as myself, he's a sort of crazed Brooklyn-based Russian/Polish/Persian/Jewish artist/composer/performer, a Reich/Glass contemporary and a cognac-swilling cowboy hat-wearing eccentric. Who plays the piano.

(Two of them in fact. Simultaneously.)

A Sweet Quasimodo Between Black Vampire Butterflies for Maybeck
isÉ well, exactly that. It's also a monumental 36-minute composition that swells from an initial 5 minutes of minimalist single note 'strumming' through babbling discordances, pace changes, weird jarring motions and urgent swelling to a thunderous bass-heavy conclusion.

Whether or not that makes it any good, I'm not terribly sure. I could reel off a long list of its startling attributes, but I have this vague paranoid notion that perhaps nobody really
likes this kind of music, and that for me to prattle upon about the beauty of the harmonic experimentation might just be a propagation of the myth that there's any real worth in this.

Certainly the array of bizarre textures Palestine conjures from his twin pianos is fascinating - from ghosts of xylophones, and even sitars, to huge sweeping howls of sound. Furthermore, the more minimalist moments are very beautiful, the (occasional) chord changes very well judged, and his quick flourishes delightful. However, these odd flashes of brilliance aside, there is simply not enough here to sustain even the fully attentive listener's attention. Doubtless, Palestine hopes to induce us into a trance-like state, but I, for one, started considering my shopping list. More cognac, perhaps.

Metatron, Richard Pinhas [Cuneiform Records]

Richard Pinhas's epic Metatron opens with the spectacular 'Tikkun, Pt. I: The Unification of the Name', the first of three movements which provide the double disk set's structure. Its brooding, choking, cyclical guitars, chiming harmonics, droning synth and scattered jazz drums (by Magma's Antoine Paganotti) together invoke a stunning, sparkling texture, and set the tone for the remainder of the album.

Pinhas's technique throughout involves introducing new elements every few seconds and allowing them to echo on into an amorphous wash of sound. 'Aleph Number 1' and 'Shadda•', are simple examples of this - made interesting by the former's sampling of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, and the latter's intriguing slap-back percussion, looped over a bed of uneasy synths. Less inspiring is 'Moumoune and Mietz in the Sky with Diamonds', an utterly pointless and stomach-churningly saccharine exercise which sees Pinhas's repetitiveness at its self-indulgent worst. A sparkly sci-fi opening quickly gives way to a drowning prog-rock ode to 'Puff (The Magic Dragon)'. You can almost feel his bandmates' eyes rolling.

Side 1 closer, 'Metatron/Shadda•/Chabbata•', is another spoken word piece, with a sea of white noise guitars providing an effective backdrop for Pinhas's sampling of his literary heroes William Burroughs (reading
Nova Express) and Philip K. Dick (rehearsing his 1977 speech If You Think This World Is Bad, You Should See Some Of The Others). Pretentious, yes, but musically effective.

Side 2 marks a significant upswing in the quality and the variety of tracks. 'Tikkun, Pt. II' is perhaps the best of the three, its cold shuddering textures and whale song synths punctured by violent bursts of guitar buzz. This is followed by 'The Fabulous Story of Tigroo and Leloo', a brilliant slice of pacey eighties-tinged electronica, and then 'Metatron(iC) Rock'
- cool jazz noodling juxtaposed with dirty heavy metal winding.

'Babylon Babies' provides yet another welcome stylistic twist, with its buzzing loop driven forward by a refreshingly different electro beat. Further sci-fi ramblings are here provided by Pinhas's long-time collaborator, cyberpunk novelist Maurice Dantec, whose breathy French monologue is a reading from his novel of the same title. However, a quick Google search on Dantec reveals some slightly distasteful pro-Zionist anti-Islamic politics, which throw Pinhas's uniformly Jewish titling into a disturbing light. Musically however, the track is a real treat, especially as the reading gives way to a drum fallout, a slow monumental guitar solo and wailing swan-whistle synths.

Of the remaining tracks, 'The Ari: Isaac Louria Song' is another bland layered echoes piece - as is album closer 'Tikkun, Pt. III', which features many returning elements from parts I and II, but does nothing new with them - for longer. Penultimate track, 'Double Face of Metatron', however, opens with wonderfully refreshing chirps of oriental staccato guitar, reminding the listener of what is really missing from
Metatron as a whole - moments of space, and subtlety. Unfortunately, Pinhas forgets to turn his echo pedal off and the track becomes yet another convoluted wash (though admittedly one of the better ones).

Ultimately, this is a collection of masterful textures, but with no real progression within each piece (apart from intensifying layers), few of them truly justify their length. There are some real highlights, but at over two hours long, and with so many of the same tricks used on very long tracks, one can't help but feel that this could have worked so much better reigned in on single CD, with the variety of styles better showcased in a shorter running time.

     © Joe Boswell 2007