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Tartar Lamb - Polyimage of Known Exits CD (album) cover


Tartar Lamb



3.74 | 25 ratings

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4 stars It's very, very hard for me to write about this kind of music. Anything that Toby Driver has a hand in tends to be very challenging listening, and describing it often forces me to come up with increasingly absurd metaphors to try and describe the sounds I'm hearing. Fortunately, this time the musicians involved beat me to it: the kickstarter for this project described the music as "the sound of a whale swallowing a comet, spouting a cloud of ice from its blowhole, and the shards raining down and slicing up your face."

Well, I have no idea what exactly what that means, but it's still a fairly apt description. This is dissonant, swirling, depressive music that makes you feel like you're floating alone through a particularly sorrowful section of space, music that summons up incredibly intense emotions of isolation and loss. And sure, it sounds like a whale swallowed an icy comet and is now pelting you with the shards. This is avant, difficult music that requires your full attention, but will prove incredibly satisfying if you're willing to give that.

"1st Movement" begins with some fairly dissonant winds and bass. The melancholic drones quickly establish a feeling of absolute bleakness, but it still never feels gratuitous or overly melodramatic. It's very subtle, really; with only some long notes from the winds and some minimal rhythm lines from the bass the track manages to establish its mood very quickly. At about a minute in the texturing changes a little bit as some glitchy sounding electronic effects are added. It's an interesting aesthetic that provides a very unsettling atmosphere. These drop out after a bit and the track plays around for a little while with more traditional wind parts, and this middle section of the track is quite beautiful. Midway through, however, the glitchy electronics return, and from there the track spirals through a variety of instrumentations and sounds, from longingly melancholic melodic sections to anarchic wailings. Never, though, does the first movement lose it's feeling of haunted sorrow, and it sets a very high bar for the rest of the album.

"2nd Movement" begins with a bit more craziness, with the electronics going full force over more of those dissonant long notes from the winds. This is the motif for the first couple minutes before the bass takes a bit of a more prominent position in the piece. It's about this time as well that the track takes on a much more dark-ambient feel, moving horns to the back and bringing deep synths and scratchy static sounds to the fore. After this the arrangement strips down for a brief bass solo before the static returns with a muddled, hard to understand spoken word section. After this the horns return to the front of the track to play an incredibly sorrowful section that calls to mind the image of a lone musician standing in the rain pouring his sorrows out through his instrument. The last substantial chunk of the movement features heavy interplay between all the instruments, building in intensity to a screeching climax while somehow retaining throughout the incredibly dark, dismal, lonely atmosphere even as howling and wailing fill the listener's ears. The last two minutes in particular feature an amazing wall of sound layered over a haunting wind line, creating a brilliant juxtaposition of sounds that's some of the most avant and yet at the same time listenable music that I've ever heard.

"3rd Movement" begins with some bass and electronics that have a bit more of a psychedelic feel than either of the first two movements, but it's still very dark. Some ethereal chanted vocals add to this effect, and provide a nice change of pace from the two largely vocal-less first tracks. Those same dissonant winds again make an appearance again, though they seem to be to be a bit more melodic and orchestral in this third movement. The bass guitar remains in a prominent position as well, and I have to say I've never heard someone play the bass like Toby Driver does. His parts aren't super technical or anything but they still have a way of being incredibly compelling, and it's nice to have the bass play such a prominent role. Towards the second half of this movement the feeling changes a little bit, with the tempo increasing and the electronics returning. The bass goes into a hypnotic, repeating line over which the winds and sound effects swirl and howl. The track concludes with another chaotic miasma of sound that fades away to nothing before the last track of the album begins.

"4th Movement" begins with some frenetic wind noises before dropping into a more languid bass and wind part. Dissonance is used to great effect here, with very atonal chords being placed into the music in a way that still makes them sound totally natural, and dare I say it, even very pretty. After about 4 minutes of this the bass launches into a more rhythmic line and violin takes the melody for the first time on the album. It's a great sonic texture, especially after three tracks of mostly bass and winds, and it's also some of the most melodic material on the album, hearkening back to the (comparatively) more accessible maudlin of the Well sound. There's not even very much dissonance in this middle section of the fourth movement, and while the winds and electronics still play a large part in the end of the track the fourth movement has a decidedly different feel than the movements which preceded it.

I admit, when I first heard this album I was a bit underwhelmed. While only passively listening to the album it seemed to all sound the same. As with all difficult music, however, I quickly discovered that this is not music which ought to be listened to as a background soundtrack. When you actually sit down and listen to this music without distraction, an incredible degree of variety reveals itself and Polyimage of Known Exits proves to be one of the most challenging, idiosyncratic recordings I've listened to in recent memory, even by the high standards of Toby Driver-related projects. It may not blow me away quite like Bath or Choirs of the Eye, but it's well worth a listen and personally I think it's even a step above the most recent Kayo Dot project "Gamma Knife." Great stuff.


VanVanVan | 4/5 |


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