Saturday, October 22, 2011

Review: Second Family Band - Twelfth Night Reunion (Brave Mysteries, 2011)

Despite the associations with the freak folk (or “New Weird America”, if you will) scene, the opening sounds of the Madison based collective’s newest cassette, released on Wisconsin’s esoteric label Brave Mysteries, come closer to Lee Noble’s lo-fi outsider drones than loosely formed nature jams. Eventually, the sparse percussive sounds emerge from the gentle, ambienty loop. The impression of an instrumental jam gradually unspooling fades away quickly, because on this tape Second Family Band decided to go into a far more synth-based areas full of eerie echoes and dreamy shimmering synth solos.
            Second Family Band were always the “connectors” between the two scenes: on one side we have the “family” aspect: music as a communal experience and the result of sharing creative ideas in the form of improvisation, putting heart and soul into the act of creation and channeling positive energy; on the other side there’s an “experimentation” factor: channeling the spirits of mid-century avant-garde composers, early electronic shamans (such as Popol Vuh) and crafting a special brand of meandering, psychedelic electronic music with the intention of “zoning out” the listener. Twelfth Night Reunion  is an abstract assemblage of forms, cavernous and spacy with mercilessly reverbed synth waves, yet always “littered” and “busy” with stray guitar noodling and percussive clatter. The closest modern comparisons would be the early work of Super Minerals (e.g. Pelagics)  and the more avant-garde moments of No Neck Blues Band (e.g. Letters from the Earth) and Sunburned Hand of the Man. But after a while, when you think you’re stuck with haunting calls and hazy reverb, the side hits a faster, funkier side (“Feast of St Nicholas pts 1 & 6”) with a bass and organ driven freestyle hippie jam with a liberal use of cymbals by the drummer. “Under the Harvest” goes from a slow, acoustic start to a rhythmic, moaning kraut-folk in the style of Amon Düül II’s Phallus Dei.
            Side B gets back on the track with droning, wandering kosmische synth lines (“Feast of St Agnes pt 5”). This is Second Family Band at their most cosmic, taking numerous cues from classics of early ambient and progressive electronic music. Furutistic, desert-like drones loom in the distance while a dark cloud of bassy, humming electronics rises above the horizon, like a brewing storm. The prog suite then goes into more abstract areas, with eerie synthesizer creating a relentless rhythm while a mysterious, processed voice moans in the background. While on the previous side the ambient, electronic track was an introduction to the folkier, “freakier” parts, here it takes the majority of the side, sinking itself in as it progresses. Unlike Excepter, which split from the original line-up of No Neck Blues Band to make purely electronic music, Second Family Band feels no need to separate themselves for playing folk and electronic music, here they make smooth transitions between the areas, often overlapping both areas with acoustic guitars co-existing peacefully with sequencers and synthesizers. And while you might think “this has been done so many times before”, one cannot help but marvel how easily Second Family Band connects both ends and how comfortable they are with both worlds. A nice addition to the SFB discography and a nice little tape keeping just the right amounts of otherworldly meditations and outsider freakouts.

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