Friday, January 30, 2009
Slomo - The Bog (Important Records CD)
The duo of Howard Marsden and Holy McGrail is a unit whose long excursions explore the more ominous realms of synthesizer slush. This, their second album following 2005's The Creep eschews the dark fragility of their previous effort in favor of 65 minutes of near unmoving gloom whose finale, a poem written and recited by Julian Cope, merely serves to seal the casket.
The disc opens with low synth murmurs and cavernous swathes of airy atmosphere. It is a dingy environment to be sure, but one which does a fantastic job of setting the mineshaft mode of the rest of the work as it transports itself downward. McGrail's guitar rings slowly emerge, spreading outward to further widen the vast spaces that Marsden's repeated bass tones continue to conjure.
The work's greatest strength lies in both the sheer quantity of its length and in the unit's monolithic pacing. Momentary rises in density give some indication as to the duo's potential for claustrophobic sludge, but Slomo clearly prefer a slower and more spatial atmospheric exploration. Everything here has a certain tangibility to it, a physical weight.
Despite its apparent stillness, the piece does grow though. Slowly sprawling across its length are motives of movement that recur and reshape, whether they are as slight and momentary as the twanging of a guitar or as continuously subtle as the crackling backdrop. Its changes are then based more on its vertical qualities—the various tonal configurations of whatever sounds are present at that time—than its horizontal progression. Even as momentum builds with an extended guitar note and the increasing rapidity of a bubbling synthesizer, the duo never allows for any sense of emotive release or cathartic climax. Rather these moments arrive, build, and then settle back into the whole. It seems "the bog" will let nothing escape its grasp.
After the work finishes, having surveyed all corners of its static world before slinking back to a wall of hiss, Cope enters to recite his poem, "Land." Like a reading out of Beowulf, Cope exclaims with apocalyptic sorrow: "Cast down to the bogart, thou. / The highest to the highest of the low, / Cast into the bog art though, / Distinct, most noble, sad necessity." It's hardly a happy ending, but after the last 65 minutes it's good to hear another person's voice. Which isn't to say that this isn't a beautifully constructed and detailed achievement; it absolutely is. Just don't expect a parade.