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Cerberus Shoal - An Ongoing Ding CD (album) cover

AN ONGOING DING

Cerberus Shoal

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.69 | 4 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars So apparently the back-story of this record begins with the first of four 'split-side' CDs released by North East Indie Records between 2002 and 2004. Those CDs featured Cerberus Shoal in collaboration with various like-minded (and mostly lesser known) labelmates. The first of them, 'The Vim and Vigour of Alvarius B. and Cerberus Shoal' opens with a Karl Greenwald-inspired piece titled "Ding". The band was really at their creative peak at the time, as evidenced by the four split-sides as well as nearly simultaneous releases of two excellent full-length albums in 'Chaiming the Knoblessone' and 'Bastion of Itchy Peeves'. Their direction was quickly evolving though (as always), and following a brilliant career climax with the heavily acoustic 'The Land We All Believe In' in 2005 the band dissolved, with various members reappearing in either Big Blood, Fire on Fire or both a couple years later.

Somewhere in that period the group composed and performed an all-acoustic multidiscipline performance at the tiny Stillhouse Theatre in Portland, Maine that was attended by only about 50 fans but was apparently very well-received. This performance was intended as a sequel to 'Ding' (hence the title), and the band was so pleased with the result that they decided to rearrange the work as nine separate compositions and record it in a studio shortly before their demise. I'm not clear on the whole history of why there was a six year delay in releasing it, but here we are today with the recent Japanese release of 'An Ongoing Ding', the last hurrah of a legendary band that for most folks is only available as a digital download with little accompanying information and almost no fanfare.

Listening to this music feels a bit like coming across a loved one's intimate and personal journal while packing up their belongings after their untimely death. The vibe is bittersweet; while the unexpected find and connection are nostalgic and poignant, some of the memories evoked can be hard to bear.

Maybe that's a bit heavy for just an album, but I suspect most Cerberus Shoal fans have developed strong feelings for the band and their music over the years, and also have many fond memories for which their songs provided a pleasant backdrop. I know that's true for me at least, and this analogy occurred to me while listening to the closing track "Me No No Show You There" so I'll go with it here.

The sound here is very much in the vein of 'Bastion of Itchy Peeves', avant-indie music full of disjointed vocals and odd instrumentation including nondescript woodwinds and horns as well as something plucked that I'm not sure of but is likely either a banjo, oud or possibly just an alternately-tuned guitar. The album kicks off with the brief "A Tailor of Graves" which sounds like a 'Bastion' outtake, followed by another of Chriss Sutherland's somewhat annoying spoken-word vignettes "Shall We Give the Earth a Word?" which as usual includes some interesting drone and sound experimentation musically but makes almost no sense lyrically. Really though one has to expect that from any of the latter Cerberus Shoal albums, and I suppose I'd have been surprised had there not been at least one of these sort of tracks. That one is followed by "I've Nothing Left", an eight minute- long, quintessential Shoal composition on which just about everyone harmonizes in a disorderly fashion amidst pan flutes, jangling strings and a laconic rhythm. This is exactly the sort of song that attracted me to the band and kept my attention even as they wandered experimentally all across the musical landscape during the dozen years or so of their existence.

The next couple of tracks are musically adventurous but feature a bit too much of Sutherland's weird vocals for my taste, although again that's all part of the Shoal package so you take the good with the could-be-better. If you've ever wondered what a Cerberus Shoal club-mix would sound like you should check out "Lashing at our Backs" though. Very amusing.

One has to wonder if the band knew their end was fast-approaching when they recorded these tracks, especially the final two. "O! Holy Fledgling" is a sort of oddly bastardized and organ-led hymnal that segues beautifully into the closing "Me No No Show You There", which is one of the most gorgeous, melodic and grounded compositions I've ever heard from this band. For all their experimental misses over the years, the band proves here that they never lost the ability to nail a solid performance when they set their minds to it.

In some ways I'm saddened to hear this album as it once again reminds me that we've lost a band that (for me at least) was musically a big part of the past decade. I'm also still waiting for a follow-up to the brilliant Fire on Fire debut, so maybe in that respect this belated farewell from Cerberus Shoal can act as a proxy until that happens. Four out of five stars despite the sometimes overdone spoken-word passages. Essential for fans of the band and very highly recommended to everyone else.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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