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Cerberus Shoal - Elements of Structure/Permanence CD (album) cover


Cerberus Shoal


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4 stars Rating: A-

Cerberus Shoal are one of the more enigmatic bands of late, always shifting styles and never sounding the same twice. From their excellent self-titled debut, where they created a bunch of Slint-inspired post-hardcore pieces to their final album, The Land We All Believe In (which is ostensibly freak folk), Cerberus Shoal always proved a fascinating band and a good listen. Their best album, however, of those I've heard (which is every studio release not counting splits or .And Farewell to Hightide), Elements of Structure/Permanence is by far the best.

It consists of only two pieces of music, both extended improvisations. Cerberus Shoal created these pieces for two separate films, and thus the action of the music is related to the action in the films, but this isn't evident just listening to the album. Both songs stand up in their own right. In fact, they do far more than that; they excel. They carry the listener through a variety of moods without ever getting boring. Even more surprisingly, they do this without ever really climaxing. Sure, there are times where the music builds in intensity (such as eleven minutes into "Permanence"), but there are no Godspeed You! Black Emperor-like explosions. And, frankly, the album doesn't need any.

Like many albums, Elements of Structure/Permanence is a grower. On the first few listens, it doesn't seem very interesting, because, looking just on the surface, it's not. However, as future listens reveal its subtleties and allow the listener to better grasp its mood, Elements of Structure/Permanence slowly grows until the one listen where it hits, and from there, it becomes a fantastic listen. Little touches such as the horns on "Permanence" (roughly sixteen minutes in or thereabouts) reveal their brilliance over time and make this such a fantastic album. It's best enjoyed in the dark on a good pair of headphones, but however you listen, it demands your full attention.

With Elements of Structure/Permanence, Cerberus Shoal created their masterpiece, an amazing album that could almost pass for post-rock, except that it embodies none of the clichés of the genre. Instead, it takes the listener through roughly an hour of fascinating musical landscapes. Their more recent freak folk albums may be their most accessible (in a very relative sense), but this is their best. Highly recommended.

Report this review (#171228)
Posted Saturday, May 17, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars Once again Cerberus Shoal delivers a studio album with a surprising stylistic turn. In the case of this, their third album, the band takes a cue from the likes of Joe Jackson’s late 80s faux classical releases ‘Will Power’ and ‘Heaven and Hell’; or maybe even some John Cage. Also like their other albums the band manages to sound both slightly dated and timeless simultaneously. That’s quite a trick by the way. There is some resemblance to the journeyman trio Group 87 here as well.

A strong argument could be made for this being their most artistically pristine and impressive album. The very tight melding of improvisational electronica, classical music and modern rock rhythms is nowhere as easy to accomplish as it sounds in a finished product. The group clearly spent quite a bit of rehearsal and production time in the studio before convincing themselves these two lengthy songs were ready for prime-time.

But at the same time I’m not as excited by the almost too-prefect, smooth jazz-like glossy sheen here. The band shows they can hang with the most accomplished ‘serious’ musicians of their day, but somehow for a Cerberus Shoal fan the absence of anything even remotely raw, experimental or occasionally in-your-face leaves a hole in the musical experience. This kind of reminds me of a couple projects former PiL Jah Wobble put out after he sobered up in the early nineties: musically adroit but lacking in body fluids or the tense expectation of an awkward explosion at the most inappropriate time. You know – the sort of thing that separates Chopin from Cobain.

To be fair these two songs were both written as film soundtracks, so the themes and, to a certain extent the moods, were somewhat dictated by the subject matter they were designed to accompany. Some consideration has to be made for this fact. But as a full- fledged Cerberus Shoal studio work I find the final product to be a bit lacking in light of my personally considerable expectations.

Given the technical outstanding delivery I can’t quite conscience giving the CD only two stars, but I also doubt very many progressive music aficionados will find this to be a very appealing album, unless maybe you find Phillip Glass or Robert Fripp’s solo stuff appealing. So I’m going to go with three stars, but with only a mild recommendation for those interested in the whole of the band’s body of work.


Report this review (#251055)
Posted Monday, November 16, 2009 | Review Permalink

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