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CERBERUS SHOAL

RIO/Avant-Prog • United States


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Cerberus Shoal biography
Cerberus Shoal was formed in mid 1994; where the collective came together in Boston. Caleb Mulkerin relocated from his native South Portland while Chris Sutherland and Thomas Roger were in attendance at universities in surrounding areas. While their final member Josh Ogden made his weekly travels from Falmouth to attend band rehearsals. After smoothing out the fixtures of the band, they played their first show in March 1995. Working freely through the punk scene of Ebullition Records and "Book your own f**king life" they went on to release their first Self titled 12-inch record and continued to tour for the remainder of the 95 summer.

With the transition of Kristen Hedges 'in' and Orgden 'out' we were to see the second (of many) incarnations of Cerberus Shoal. Within the next 6 months, time was spent preciously with the singles "Light House in Athens Part one and two" along side the first full length album being written and released. In quick concession they released their next album "And Farewell to the Hightide" on tree records in the summer of 96; featuring the newest musician David Mulder (piano, organ and conga). Continuing to tour, promoting their albums they sadly were to lose the creative mind of Hedge as quickly as she came. Grieving the loss of their first seemingly full line-up the now four piece pushed in through the continuum of 96 spanning in 97 recording many minor releases while also writing "Breathing Machine" and "Never a Solution".

In May 97 glimpses were seen of Cerberus Shoal's next full line-up. The band plunged into a series of collaborations with the Portland based Band "Tarpigh". The two groups agree heartily to work
on two soundtracks for Tim Folland's abstract short films "Elements of Structure" and "Permanence". Setting themselves in front of the TV with the hope to enhance their creative collections, creating two 20 - 30min improvisational pieces. Through the relative success of the project a spark was kindled between the two bands. Originally neither band intended the separate release of the performance pieces. But label "Audio Information Phenomena" released the sound track record "Element of Structure/Permanence" in 98.

Within a matter of weeks, with a six month tour looming in the summer Mulder made his pardons, making his departure final. Now a three piece the group was desperate to keep the ball rolling. With the new bond formed with "Tarpigh" fresh in their minds, a hand was extended for...
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Buy CERBERUS SHOAL Music


Mr Boy DogMr Boy Dog
Temporary Residence 2002
Audio CD$23.98
$9.92 (used)
Crash My Moon YachtCrash My Moon Yacht
North East Indie 2000
Audio CD$10.98
$4.49 (used)
Elements of Structure / PermanenceElements of Structure / Permanence
Temporary Residence 2002
Audio CD$39.98
$2.33 (used)
Land We All Believe inLand We All Believe in
North East Indie 2005
Audio CD$5.00
$2.72 (used)
HombHomb
Temporary Residence 2001
Audio CD$34.99
$14.98 (used)
Chaiming the KnoblessoneChaiming the Knoblessone
North East Indie 2003
Audio CD$6.00
$3.99 (used)
Farewell to HightideFarewell to Hightide
Not Used 1997
Audio CD$27.97
$0.96 (used)
Bastion of Itchy PreevesBastion of Itchy Preeves
North East Indie 2004
Audio CD$8.35
$1.54 (used)
Cerberus ShoalCerberus Shoal
Remastered
North East Indie 2004
Audio CD$9.64
$5.49 (used)
Bastion of Itchy Preeves by Cerberus Shoal (2004) Audio CDBastion of Itchy Preeves by Cerberus Shoal (2004) Audio CD
North East Indie
Audio CD$34.70
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CERBERUS SHOAL shows & tickets


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CERBERUS SHOAL discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

CERBERUS SHOAL top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.88 | 7 ratings
Cerberus Shoal
1995
2.29 | 5 ratings
...and farewell to hightide
1996
3.41 | 13 ratings
Elements of Structure/Permanence
1997
3.89 | 10 ratings
Homb
1999
3.86 | 10 ratings
Crash My Moon Yacht
2000
3.95 | 10 ratings
Mr Dog Boy
2002
3.50 | 4 ratings
The Vim and Vigour of Alvarius B and Cerberus Shoal
2002
3.17 | 4 ratings
The Whys and Hows of Herman Dune and Cerberus Shoal
2002
1.83 | 8 ratings
The Ducks and Drakes of Guapo and Cerberus Shoal
2003
3.38 | 10 ratings
Chaiming the Knoblessone
2003
3.19 | 7 ratings
Bastion of Itchy Preeves
2004
2.30 | 4 ratings
The Life and Times of The Magic Carpathians and Cerberus Shoal
2004
4.00 | 12 ratings
The Land We All Believe In
2005
3.69 | 4 ratings
An Ongoing Ding
2010

CERBERUS SHOAL Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

CERBERUS SHOAL Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

CERBERUS SHOAL Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

CERBERUS SHOAL Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 1 ratings
Garden Fly, Drip Eye
2001

CERBERUS SHOAL Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 An Ongoing Ding by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 2010
3.69 | 4 ratings

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An Ongoing Ding
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by 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

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 An Ongoing Ding by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 2010
3.69 | 4 ratings

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An Ongoing Ding
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by kifo

3 stars It's been a while since Cerberus Shoal announced that they would be releasing a new album, and after a long wait, it's finally out!

According the their blog, the music on this album was composed as a soundtrack/musical theatre performance for a venue called "The Stillhouse Theatre", which was performed there around the middle of 2003. The music is in some sense a detached extension/experimentation based on the track "Ding" from the Alvarius B split. After a 7 year lock-away, the music has been somewhat extended, re-recorded in the studio, and split up to form An Ongoing Ding.

People familiar with Cerberus Shoal will know that they have released soundtrack music before, in the form of Elements of Structure/Permanence. The difference between these two releases lies in the feeling of Elements being released just for the sake of a showcase/why not?, and An Ongoing Ding being released because the band felt it should be released properly, having faith in the compositions. A quick listen will show just how much the two releases actually differ.

An Ongoing Ding is, for better or worse, highly coherent and focused. This material was written around the same time as the Land We All Believe In music. Like Land, the music here shows the same "Proof of Evolution" quality that Land did. Long gone are the 8 minute aimless noodlings and extended instrumental explorations of their past, replaced by a somewhat sobering sense of musical vision.

Listening to this album, I can't help but get the feeling that this is the last Cerberus Shoal we're going to see for a long while, if not the last we'll ever see. While the music here is undoubtedly Shoals', I get the feeling that they treated this material, and its release, differently than their other albums. This music is highly produced, and packed with so much direction that it almost entirely lacks the 'breathing room' that made other releases so enjoyable. The pop-bound-progression seems to be even more evident here than on Land, resulting in a listenable and almost accessible experience that, despite being completely welcome and enjoyable, leaves me missing the old releases even more.

The music here is perhaps as close to the side-project Fire on Fire as it is to Cerberus Shoal, featuring extensive vocals and almost exclusively acoustic instrumentation. Further listening may prove me wrong, but I'm leaning towards classifying this as a 'lesser' Cerberus release, as I had Elements of Permanence. No one could say that the musical ideas here aren't fully developed, and wonderfully executed, but it strays a little too far from the vision of Shoal that I enjoyed so much, and leaves me thinking that this release may have lost something without it's on-stage presentation and one-time intimacy.

Any CS fan will probably agree that ANY release of new material is very much welcome and anticipated, but my advice here would be not to get your hopes up too high. Perhaps a hallmark of enjoying any CS release is to appreciate it more for what it is rather than what it accomplishes, and that guideline works especially well here. This album, despite being on the less-than-notable side of their discography, is very much in line with their evolution to date, and well worth a listen from any CS fan, although I doubt it will leave anyone inexperienced with their catalog a feeling that they "got it".

3 stars. This album is enjoyable, pleasant, and refreshing, even if it's not what I dreamt of a new CS chapter being, its far better than nothing.

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 The Ducks and Drakes of Guapo and Cerberus Shoal by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 2003
1.83 | 8 ratings

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The Ducks and Drakes of Guapo and Cerberus Shoal
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

1 stars This is the third of four in the Cerberus Shoal North East Indie “split CD” series, a set of discs where Cerberus Shoal combine in various ways with like-minded and/or stylishly constrasting bands to produce – well, sometimes something profound, and sometimes just audible annoyance. This time it’s the latter.

Guapo are the closest in style to Cerberus Shoal of the four bands who paired with them on this series. The others – Alvarius B (Sun City Girls), Herman DŁne, and the Magic Carpathians all contrasted with Shoal in one form or another, particularly DŁne who seem to have managed to even influence the Cerberus Shoal offerings on their CD. Guapo do as well, sort of. Both are avant bands who are difficult to classify, and both wander aimlessly at times into post-rock territory without any evidence of real commitment to the form. And in the end that turns out to be the undoing of both bands on this album. In a nutshell this is fifty minutes or so of post-rock electronic tension with slowly building and complex rhythms that threaten to explode into cacophony at any time.

But they don’t – ever. I suppose the two band’s abilities to create anxiety in the listener without ever providing release could be construed as some kind of artistic genius, much the same as performance art of someone pissing on a statue of the Virgin Mary is supposed to harness anger into social commentary and inspire contemplation on the part of the viewer. But in both cases that isn’t what usually happens; the art fails to achieve its goal and instead leaves most observers frustrated and even a little irritated. And that’s not artistic or clever, it’s just annoying.

Guapo lead off with their long and slowly un-building “Idios Kosmos”, a mostly electronic and digital instrumental that leaves me absolutely cold, but in an uninspired way, not one where the music somehow inspired those chills. It’s just boring, nothing more.

Following that Cerberus Shoal offer up an equally lengthy track (“A Man who Loved Holes”). I’ve no idea what either the title or the lyrics and spoken-word sections mean, but that’s no big deal because the same can be said of almost all Cerberus Shoal music. And for the most part I love their albums and the way they continually reinvent themselves and explore all sorts of musical innovations, so the weird lyrics don’t detract at all. The digitized spoken- word parts do though. This is a trait of Shoal music that surfaces quite often on their other records, and never really clicks on any of them. Like the Guapo track, my main complaint with this one is that it never actually gets to where it appears to be going, wandering aimlessly instead until it simply peters out after more than sixteen minutes.

The final song “Kdios Iiosmos, He Two Loved Holes” is, as the title suggests, sort of a melding of the first two, with members of both bands contributing. Plenty more digital drone and slowly-forming soundscapes here as well, more in the Guapo vein then that of Shoal it seems. In the middle there’s a bit of a tense whiny keyboard-and-drone section where I think the album is finally going to reveal something spectacular, but right about the time I start to lick my lips in anticipation it’s gone, and the programmed Hal-2000 mood music takes over once again. Several minutes later the song just fades away altogether.

I love this band and usually appreciate their experimental side; sometimes that backfires though, and this is one of those times. Frankly I haven’t gotten into any of the four split-CD series records, but of the four this one is the least interesting. In fact, as much as it pains me I have to acknowledge that there really isn’t anything redeeming I can find in the entire recording, and so I’ve really no choice but to note it rates no more than one star, and isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone. Sucks, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Don’t let this one aberration deter you from either Guapo or Cerberus Shoal’s other CDs though; most of the two band’s respective discographies are well worth exploring. Just skip this one.

peace

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 The Whys and Hows of Herman Dune and Cerberus Shoal by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.17 | 4 ratings

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The Whys and Hows of Herman Dune and Cerberus Shoal
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

3 stars Another weird album from Cerberus Shoal. This is the first of four “split CD” issues off the band’s former label North East Indie. The idea with these albums was for the band to collaborate with ‘like-minded’ avant-folk acts that they might not otherwise be associated with. In this case the other band is Herman DŁne, a trio (at the time, now they’re a duo) hailing from France who play a sort of introspective, brooding new-folk style that emphasizes individual instruments and lyrics that border at times on a little self-indulgent but overall are fairly interesting and thought-provoking.

Like just every other album Cerberus Shoal have ever recorded, going into this one with preconceived notions will inevitably result in confusion, surprise and perhaps for some, disappointment. I’ll admit to not really taking much of a liking to this record the first few times I spun it, as it comes off on first impression as not much more than a borderline shoe-gazing anti-folk indie CD. And if this were Herman DŁne on their own that’s possibly all the music would ever aspire to be, particularly since this was recorded early in that band’s career before they seem to have found their own voice and sound. But what makes the thing click is the seamless way Cerberus Shoal blends their portion of the CD (the second half) with the first seven songs that are played by Herman DŁne.

Granted, Cerberus Shoal are better musicians, their songs have more intricate and detailed arrangements, and they have more members than Herman DŁne (seven including my favorite earthy folk maven Colleen Kinsella). But when “That Woman is a Murderess” fades out and the first of the three “UR” tracks winds up, there is no real sense of a musical shift. Instead Cerberus Shoal manage to inflect their own odd brand of jazz / folk / avant- garde musical potpourri in a way that seems to extend and complete the less evolved music of Herman DŁne. I’m not exactly sure how they do it, I’m sure by matching some of the same tempos and chord progressions, etc. (not being a student of music theory that sort of crap is largely lost on me). All I know is the mood remains constant through “Sweetie” and “UR #2”, and only by the time “Bouzouki” rolls around does it become apparent Shoal have shifted their sound to something resembling a blend of Slavic folk and mellow klezmer music. After a few listens the genius of the album starts to emerge, and only now (several years after I first purchased this record) am I rediscovering it with some appreciation, having in the meantime grown accustomed to the schizophrenic nature of the Cerberus Shoal’s musical journey.

I’m still not much of a fan of Herman DŁne, although admittedly this is the only one of their many records I’ve ever listened to. They sound a bit like Elvis Costello (later years) covering Ben Folds Five records with Beat Circus as a backing band. Costello and Beat Circus work okay for me, but the self-pitying lyrics in the Ben Folds mold aren’t very appealing at all. The plaintive acoustic percussion gives the music a certain charm though, and being a sucker for that sort of thing I find myself concentrating on that and ignoring David-Ivar’s sappy voice.

This record is definitely not the sort of thing any metal or progressive symphonic rock fan is likely to find even remotely appealing; but for avant and adventurous prog folk fans there may be enough here to capture your imagination if you can get past the first spin of the first seven tracks. You might even try playing the Cerberus Shoal side first and then back- tracking to the Herman DŁne, as that seems to make the whole package work just a little better IMHO. Three stars – surprising since I wouldn’t have given it more than two a couple years ago. Perhaps I need to go back and revisit more of the dusty and discarded CDs on the bottom of my music shelf. Hmmm……

peace

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 Bastion of Itchy Preeves by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.19 | 7 ratings

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Bastion of Itchy Preeves
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

3 stars I really don’t get the point of this album, which knowing Cerberus Shoal probably is the point of this album. More so than any of their other dozen or so releases, this one exemplifies the collaborative, communal nature of their approach to music making.

No one person or instrument dominates, nor does any particular style or theme as near as I can tell. Some of the lyrics are silly (“I know your feathers are wet!”), others unintelligible, and still others seem cerebrally wise and thoughtful. Just about everyone gets in on the singing (which is more plentiful here than on any of their previous records); at times it seems like just about all of them are singing at once, although not necessarily the same song or even in the same key. Some stand out, in particular Colleen Kinsella who hadn’t been with the group very long when they first recorded these tracks in 2000 (although the record itself wouldn’t be released until 2003). Her voice varies at times from a rather pleasant, easy canter to shrill freak folk, and is usually rather flat but not so much as to impinge on the power of the music. Chriss Sutherland, who plays bass in addition to chortling a convincing David Byrne imitation is the other somewhat dominant voice (especially on “Bogart the Change”), but none of the members take center-stage to the detriment of the others.

And this is part of the problem and the providence of this band. All of them seem to actively contribute to every album and every song, but sort of like every bee-member contributes to stitching a quilt: the results may be beautiful, but may just as easily end up displaying an egregious flaw due to the lack of central direction. For those who like their music well- organized and neat, Cerberus Shoal will prove beyond maddening. For avant-garde/RIO nuts, these guys are just this side of Henry Cow, and have been described as ‘a 3rd-rate Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. I can buy that comparison, but could just as easily bundle them in the same loose collective of acts like Faun Fables, Larkin Grimm or Tunng (check out “Baby Gal” for the best example of the latter two).

Ms. Kinsella appears to be the biggest influence on the band’s eventual veering off into freak folk territory, as that side of the group was nonexistent before she landed a gig with them. Again “Baby Gal” is the best evidence of this, as well as “Tekel Upharsin” and the vaguely Eastern European-sounding “Train Car Nursery”.

The band also continues their habit of marginally clever song titles, including “A Cloud No Bigger Than a Man's Head” combined with the closing “A Head No Bigger Than a Man's Cloud” and the somehow appropriately-titled “Shaky Bull”. Check out any album after this for plenty more examples.

Also get ready for plenty of drone, loads of words (some of which are actual singing), liberal use of ebow and oud (like you don’t get that combination every day!), and bizarre deployment of a Jew’s harp that reminds me a bit of Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs’ “One More Smoke”. Throw in the faint presence of melody when the mood suits them (not often, by the way) and a ubiquitous and varied rhythm section and you have an interesting though incongruous collection of songs that will definitely challenge your music- listening skills. When all is said and done I suppose that’s a good thing, unless of course you prefer music that requires nothing of the listener. If that’s the case head on over to the Pop/Dance aisle at your local mega-chain store; otherwise take some time to hunt this thing down and give it a try; if nothing else it’ll give you a sense of accomplishment when (if) you manage to get through the whole thing. Three stars.

peace

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 Elements of Structure/Permanence by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 1997
3.41 | 13 ratings

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Elements of Structure/Permanence
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator 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.

peace

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 Cerberus Shoal  by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 1995
3.88 | 7 ratings

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Cerberus Shoal
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars This was Cerberus Shoal’s first album, released in the mid-90s as a 12 inch vinyl on their own Stella White label. You won’t likely find that one anywhere since there were only 1,000 pressed, but the remastered CD version from North East Indie is pretty easy to locate; I got mine for $5 USD used off Amazon. Like most of their first half-dozen albums, this one is steeped in a post-rock sound of plodding arrangements, barely intelligible spoken-word vocals, drone and the occasional crashing crescendo. The roots however seem to be more post-punk grunge ala the Afghan Whigs, Babes in Toyland and maybe even a little earlier stuff like Bauhaus or even a little Gun Club. I feel like I heard a thousand bands that sounded like the hard stuff on this album back in the latter 80s and early 90s, but honestly I can’t remember a whole lot of them now and all that stuff is on cassette dry-rotting in my attic today so I can’t really be bothered to crawl up there and root through it to come up with any of the names.

The difference here of course is the melding of cerebral post-rock and electronic drone with the grungier stuff – none of the bands mentioned above did anything like that (except maybe Bauhaus a little, but I really never got into them much back in the day). Also, Cerberus Shoal made a habit of regularly reinventing themselves through endless experimentation and collaboration in their ten-plus years, so this album isn’t any more representative of their ‘sound’ than anything else they recorded. Listening to a Cerberus Shoal album is more about trying to understand their trip than it is about discovering (or necessarily even enjoying) their music.

That said, I was surprised to find that this quickly became one of my favorite of their albums once I finally picked it up a while back. It’s kind of funny really – I love this (their first) and ‘The Land We All Believe In’ (their last) most of all, even though the two records have as diametrically opposing sounds as you’d think is possible from the same band. While the latter is heavily inspired by American folk and late-90s Mile End music, this one seems to owe a debt to Kurt Cobain and Slint as much as it does to Efrim Menuck or Mike Moya. The blend of sounds is both intriguing and at times baffling, but like the best art it definitely inspires thought and conjecture.

The highlight of the album is the lengthy and sonically brilliant “Daddy as Seen from Bar Harbor” with its thundering guitar forays and unrestrained feedback creeping out sporadically amid plodding drums and several band members offering conversational dialog in the background. I’m not sure what the point of the lyrics are, and don’t really care – the mood is what’s important here and not the message. I’ve played this one sitting in an airport people-watching, and get the same vibe as I do from playing f#a# ∞ in the same setting. A real trip for sure.

The remastered version includes a 39 minute rendition of “Rain”, which isn’t really related to the brief opening track “Rain” as near as I can tell. Instead, this one starts off with some laid-back guitar and quiet vocals before exploding into shouted singing and grunge-like guitar distortion, only to fade to almost silence before repeating the cycle several times with slightly different riffs and tempos. While I think this was included on the CD more as filler than anything else it does give a glimpse into the creative process of the band and foreshadows a lot of the music they would release late in the decade.

The other three tracks are more of the same really, with only “Breakway Cable Terminal” standing out for its extended jamming vocal/guitar dirge that would have been right at home in many clubs circa 1992 or so. I get the impression these guys had plenty of ideas and creative talent, but no real sense of where to take it. The raw energy combined with clear evidence of musical talent is palpable. Their later album ‘Homb’, while more restrained, gives off some of the same force and would be a great lead-in to this album for anyone wishing to explore the band’s music.

I may be a little generous here, but for the time being this CD is still getting a fair amount of play on my Blackberry so I’m giving it four stars for being able to keep my attention for several months despite a number of other discs landing in my lap during that time. I may tire of it after a while, but four sounds right for now so that’s what I’ll go with. Recommended for anyone who got into grunge and then outgrew it, but would enjoy that same rush but with music played by seriously talented musicians. Enjoy.

peace

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 ...and farewell to hightide  by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 1996
2.29 | 5 ratings

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...and farewell to hightide
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

2 stars With their second album Cerberus Shoal certainly give the appearance of a group that is heading down the post-rock path, ala Explosions in the Sky. These songs have semantically-appropriate abstract titles (“Broken Springs Spring Forth from Broken Clocks”, “Make Winter a Driving Song”, “J.B.O. vs. Blin”), and there is the obligatory single song pretentiously split into a Part 1 and Part 2 for no other reason than because they can. And the song structures certainly smack of post-rock with their interminably slow cadences that build to predictable crescendos and then ease away into precocious endings. There is singing, but Efrim Menuck okayed that with the first GY!BE album so this is technically not a lapse of decorum. And naturally the songs are quite long, with only one under ten minutes and that one just barely (that is, if you count the two parts of “Falling to Pieces” as one song – and you should).

But the band would go on to prove conclusively that they would not be pigeonholed into the late-90s post-rock mold with their subsequent albums, and especially beginning with the lineup that recorded the trio of ‘Homb’, ‘Crash my Moon Yacht’ and ‘Mr. Boy Dog’ during a three year touring frenzy to close out the decade.

As for this album, like I said they do a good job of putting on a show that reminds me quite a bit of Explosions in the Sky (disregarding that band’s first album of course). If you’ve heard any of that group you’ll know what this one sounds like. Kudos to the band for demonstrating the musical energy one would expect in a song titled “Broken Springs Spring Forth from Broken Clocks” by the way, and also for evoking strong feelings of both winter and driving on “Make Winter a Driving Song”. But they still sound like Explosions songs.

I should also mention the copy I have is the remastered version released in 2002 on the Temporary Residence Limited label. This thing has been released four times to my knowledge, so whatever copy you come across may be slightly different. The biggest change I know of with this one is the inclusion of a second disc containing “Lighthouse in Athens”, parts 1 & 2, which were recorded just before this album in late 1995 or early 1996 but never formally released except here as far as I know. And that’s another minor quibble – the CD package contains two discs that could have easily fit onto one (the total length is less than 67 minutes); however, liner notes are almost nonexistent. Just the band and studio credits – that’s about it. No photos, bio or history, endless list of people to thank, free rolling papers, nothing. Seems like the label could have saved a buck on the extra disc and sprung for one of those hip ‘Printed in Canada’ liner booklets with tidbits of band information just on the off-chance someone actually cared. Or at least stuck in the same promo sheet they distributed to critics and radio stations; even that would have been nice. “Lighthouse in Athens” is an interesting period piece of the band’s early years by the way, but it also suffers slightly from to-be-expected uneven production, some awkward transitions and fairly pedestrian singing.

I’m going to go with two stars for Farewell, not because there’s anything necessarily wrong with the music, but because I’ve heard most of what came later and have to make allowances for the growth and range the band would exhibit between when this was recorded and when their growing popularity led to its re-master and reissue. Leave this one for last if you’re exploring the band, and only if you are determined to have a complete discography.

peace

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 The Life and Times of The Magic Carpathians and Cerberus Shoal by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 2004
2.30 | 4 ratings

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The Life and Times of The Magic Carpathians and Cerberus Shoal
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

2 stars This is the fourth and final installment in the North East Indie label’s ‘splits’, a series of CDs consisting of collaborations between Cerberus Shoal and other “similar” artists (‘similar’ being a rather vague term considering the wide range of music Shoal have recorded over the years). In this case the Shoal hooked up long-distance with the Magic Carpathian Project, a longstanding avant-garde electronica duo based in Poland. North East Indie unfortunately went under a couple years ago, so this and the other split series CDs aren’t all that easy to find anymore, but some of their CDs are still available on a website maintained under the label’s name and run by God knows who.

The story here is that members of Cerberus Shoal collaborated via mail and email with Anna Nacher and Marek Styczynski (the Magic Carpathians) to develop and eventually record these three songs (the other track “Pre-Face” is nothing more than an accompanied, spoken-word intro for the record). Several other musicians are listed as contributors from the Carpathians camp as well. Two of the three tracks are more than thirteen minutes each and consist of meandering and apparently somewhat improvised acoustic and electronic noodling sort of in the vein of many late-90s post-rock bands. “Continuumed” is also augmented with some of Caleb Mulkerin’s weird-folk, off-key vocals in his sometimes made-up language.

The third song (“J.B.E.G.S.”) is shorter and combines often barely-perceptible instrumentation and even less perceptible vocals, mixed occasionally with unintelligible vocals.

I’d like to say some good things about this record since I am a pretty big Cerberus Shoal fan, but frankly I haven’t been able to set through the CD too many times without becoming a little bored. The music is moody, semi-ambient post-rock with some faint Eastern instrumental influences and a Shoal’s stamp mostly courtesy of Mulkerin; that’s about it. By definition that makes this a collector’s item only, and so two stars are all that are warranted. If you’re a fan I suppose you’ll want this in your collection, but I wasn’t any more impressed with this one than I was with any of the other ‘split series’ CDs. Pick it up if you run across it though, as it is out-of-print, difficult to find and will undoubtedly make for a good trading piece for you if you ever run across a Cerberus Shoal fan who has something you want in exchange.

peace

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 Crash My Moon Yacht by CERBERUS SHOAL album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.86 | 10 ratings

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Crash My Moon Yacht
Cerberus Shoal RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars Cerberus Shoal took an odd and unexpected turn with this 2000 release, as well as ‘Homb’ that preceded it. You only need to know two things to determine if you’ll like these songs – they pretty much all drip with dissonance and persistent drone, and exhibit an almost painful lack of any sense of urgency. At least that pretty much describes at six of the eight songs here; the last two are slightly different (more on that point later).

‘Crash My Moon Yacht’ was recorded around the same time as the ‘Homb’ CD that was released before it, as well as around the same time as ‘Mr. Dog Boy’ which wouldn’t be released until after the band’s metamorphosis from a six-piece mostly acoustic touring group to more of a studio collective, with a smaller touring troupe that would rely much more heavily on programming and recorded sounds to flesh out their music. If you’d never heard the band and didn’t know anything about them this record would come off as a casual blend of new age and post rock, with the emphasis being a bit more on the new age side. I think that is probably a bit of an oversimplification though.

In fact, I think the group was going through a sort of “Happiness is a Warm Gun” period (so to speak), experimenting with polyrhythmic arrangements delivered by an impressive array of instruments (I count 31 in the credits, but that includes a generic “percussion” which clearly represents a wide variety of gadgets). The majority are acoustic, although there is an omnipresent Hammond organ, an electric guitar, and a smattering of other synthesized sounds as well. Caleb Mulkerin, who also wrote a ton of the band’s material throughout their career, plays (among other things) a Farfisa organ (the transistor one, not the MIDI), something that hasn’t been heard much on studio albums since around the time of the Vietnam War. This is largely responsible for giving some of the music a sort of thin, metallic sheen that calls to mind prototypical new-agers like Philip Glass and Mike Oldfield, and is most apparent on the 3-part “Changabang”, what sounds like a single song that was split into thirds and sequenced throughout the album for no apparent reason. Combine the tinny Farfisa and a fair amount of drone with just a little brass and ill-timed fadeouts, and you get the idea.

These songs are far more approachable than much of the rest of the band’s catalog, meaning you don’t need to be a pseudo-intellectual musicology professor to appreciate them. The tone is quite repressed at times though, so headbangers should just move along and try not to make eye contact.

The one slight aberration on the album is “Yes sir, No sir”, which for some reason is one of the only songs to feature intelligible vocals (there’s moaning and chanting and such elsewhere, but not much). Unfortunately Colleen Kinsella wouldn’t show up until a couple years after this album was recorded, so the singing is mostly indie-like two-part harmonies from a couple guys in the band and not all that impressive.

One of the more interesting tracks doesn’t come until the end with the almost completely acoustic and multi-textured “Asphodel”, a mostly-instrumental that also features the majority of brass heard on the album (in fact Tim Harbeson’s trumpet is the feature instrument on this one).

I hadn’t listened to this record in a while before spinning it a couple times this week. What has struck me now but didn’t when I first bought it is that the band seems to have a bit of a split personality on this record. The “Changabang” series as well as “Breathing Machines” and “Long Winded” are heavy on drone, electronic sounds and ambience; while “Elle Besh”, “Yes sir, No sir” and “Asphodel” are more acoustic, tonal and earthy. This second face of the band’s music would manifest more as they matured, culminating in their free- folk swan song ‘The Land We All Believe In’ in 2005.

But before that would happen the group would go on to produce a couple more oddities, as well as several awkward collaborations with acts like Guapo, Herman Dune, The Magic Carpathians Project, the Bishop Brothers (aka Avarius B) and Still Life. This record is better than most of those, and if you are even mildly interested in Cerberus Shoal I would say this isn’t a bad place to start. ‘Homb’ is probably the group’s most representative record, but considering they have a habit of ranging all over the place musically and reinventing themselves ever year or so, “representative” is a relative term. Four stars for one of the band’s better releases, and well recommended.

peace

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Thanks to avestin for the artist addition. and to easy livin for the last updates

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