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Friday, 29 October 2010

Cerberus Shoal - 'Bastion of Itchy Preeves' (North East Indie)

With excesses in check, this is the Cerberus Shoal record I was waiting for, quite literally for years. The live band that I saw in 2000 or 2001 was a really mystical, strange creation that somehow touched on things antiquated and historic, yet was obviously innovative and forward thinking. And while this was released after Chaiming, they started recording it in 2001 and just took ages to finish it. Bastion of Itchy Preeves is another 70+ minute disc, but this time it's split over ten songs. There's a strong reliance on xylophones or steel drums, making tracks like 'Bogart the Change' resemble a mutant Talking Heads. Flutes and recorders are so integrated into their sound at this point that it's barely noticeable - just part of that whole Cerberus Shoal thing, y'know? And vocally, there's some beautiful, haunting harmonies - the chant of 'Baby Gal' with it's sharply over-enunciated inbreaths is pure Edward Gorey. The songs tend to open up more, and they aren't afraid to build up thick drones and occasionally erupt, but there's less of a need to have thunderous post-rock structures behind everything. And the humour is far more restrained which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your personal take. 'Grandsire' opens things up with a thick rolling blanket of pure tonal bliss, a strong post-Homb step towards melodic convergence. There's sample voices, processed through damaged electronics, but only as icing on the cake - the core of all of these songs is the notes, rhythms and voices generated by very human hands. I think my enjoyment of Itchy Preeves is somehow set by the artwork, a monochromatic modification of a TV schedule -- it conveys something antediluvian, but clearly contemporary - a true hodgepodge of sensory juxtaposition which is probably the best way to describe Cerberus Shoal. But I go into this disc with a certain mentality that's much more austere than the technicolour Chaiming. I mean, there's still elements of Chaiming's goofy, art-rock cocktail here. It's most notable on 'Tekel Upharsin', I think. That track builds up around around a repetitive, circular bassline, with notes slipping around on their intonation in a way that somehow reminds me of uber-primitive synth work. Over this various ethnic stringed instruments pluck out a melody, along with accordion and violin, and then group singing that's like a mentally insane village party, but without any trace of Wicker Man-style tones. It feels a bit like being stuck in a chicken coop at parts. A lot of Itchy Preeves falls into neo-prog territory, though the band is far more focused on textural exploration than displaying chops or composing complex song structures. The closing track, 'A Head No Bigger Than a Man's Cloud', takes on a Cocteau-like atmosphere with it's undecipherable, breathy vocals, and a twee music box dances overtop of the things. It's almost distracting from the gentle tide that lies underneath, making this a lovely finale.

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