Friday, April 17

Canada calling! Coming up on Constellation...

Constellation are responsible for releasing broad, genre-defying music and although each release differs from the next, each is bound by the same level of fantastic quality. Last year they released a superb album Villainaire by The Dead Science whose songs range from epic orchestral pop to sinister jazz-rock and weary, soulbleached balladry (an interview with enigmatic front man can be found on the Southern website) and at the start of this year Constellation released the moving Jem Cohen film Empire Of Tin, a meditation on the decline of empires with musical accompaniment from Vic Chesnutt, members of Silver Mt. Zion and Guy Picciotto (Fugazi).

Some of Constellation's recent output is arguably some of the most adventurous yet. Take Land Of Kush, musician and composer, Sam Shalabi, has for the past 20 years created music unconstrained by genre, with a musical history spanning rock, jazz, free music, punk, and most things in-between in many different projects. With Land Of Kush he explores of sprawling compositions and large ensembles. Against The Day is a complex, intense, but accessible hour of hybrid, genre-defying music. The marriage of middle-eastern, north African and western modes and influences yields a recording that evades categorization which is quite simply, superb.

Coming up are two astounding new releases, the ever-so-refreshing Elfin Saddle and the wonderous self-titled debut by Clues. In terms of the latter, co-founders Alden Penner and Brendan Reed have been quietly nurturing this project in Montreal since the demise of their respective bands, Unicorns and Les Angles Morts. As a member of the short-lived Unicorns, Penner's song-writing prowess was unveiled in a bright burst of mysterious and kaleidoscopic energy, in the form of a single full-length album (released in 2003) and countless live shows, both of which rallied passionate responses from audiences and critics alike. Penner's voice, guitar and unique lyrical vision now guide Clues, with humble authority, originality and intent. Wedded to Reed's own superlative compositional and arranging acumen (and awesome drumming, among other instrumental skills) and abetted by multi-instrumentalists Ben Borden (Les Automates de Maxime de la Rochefoucauld ), Lisa Gamble (Gambletron, Evangelista, Hrsta) and Nick Scribner (Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble), the band delivered sporadic and fantastic local performances through 2008. They then entered the Hotel2Tango studio to lay down eleven songs in a feverish session during a Montreal winter deep freeze. The resulting album radiates a very special warmth and urgency, full of secrets, smiles, snarls and sing-a-longs.

Elfin Saddle's Ringing For The Begin Again is a highly organic song cycle; the music sounds as if it had been dug up from dark, rich earth. Out of the opening drone and rustling ambient percussion of "The Bringer", Jordan evokes golem-like images in a series of descending vocal melodies, gradually joined by Emi's vocal counterpoint and a slowly evolving brew of instrumental layers, like a clay sculpture taking shape and hardening in dappled sunlight. "Running Sheep" is one of several fables sung by Emi in Japanese and demonstrates the band's sharper, more staccato melodic sensibility. Third track "Hammer Song" is a brilliant little ode to deconstruction and dismantling, an anthemic tune about the tension between restraint and resolve. Emi's ukulele and vocal lines on "Sakura" are perhaps most overtly evocative of her home country of Japan; as the song is overtaken by a clockwork of chiming acoustic guitar figures and chugging chords, and segues into the instrumental "Muskeg Parade", we're in the throes of a sort of east-meets- west miniature musicbox marching band. Side Two begins with the two-part "The Living Light", the album centerpiece and a secular hymn to rejuvenation by daylight, sunlight, exposure to the elements - perhaps as only dwellers of the upper latitudes can fully appreciate. In a way, the entirety of Ringing For The Begin Again feels forged directly out of the seasonal extremes of Canadian nature, with the instrumentation like a shelter of wood, moss, grasses and packed earth within which simple and cyclical rituals of invocation and parable can be shaped and intoned. Song after song emerges as if from a sort of hibernation, inscribing its own little portal and then breaking open through it, letting in the elements and harnessing them into harmonious coalescence.

You can find out about these and more Constellation releases on the Southern website and discuss Constellation artists on the Constellation forum.

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