Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gastr del Sol - Upgrade & Afterlife (1996)


For fans of: Tortoise, Bark Psychosis, Slint

Imaginative creativity is put to the forefront here. The songs range from acoustic avant-folk guitar explorations to electronic experiments that are sometimes combined to create lush pieces of hypnotic minimalism. In a conventional sense, they can be somewhat dull, but they successfully rely on dynamic atmospheres that set a dark and wondrous mood. At times it can simply reside pleasantly in the background, or it can creep up on you and amaze with it's unique and intricately crafted post-rock beauty. - Matthew Foster

"Somewhere along the line, Upgrade & Afterlife's original concept -- a set of conventional song made up of "normal" chords and accessible melodies -- must have been abandoned. Instead, David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke's fifth album as Gastr del Sol abounds with elliptical melodies, broken by silence and noise, that avoid resolution. The antithesis of a pop lyricist, Grubbs' elusive wordplay and vague, surreal imagery matches his music, particularly on "Rebecca Sylvester." Random noise interrupts throughout the album, bursting and seeping through song surfaces, wreaking havoc on the compositions. A fanfare of destructive screeches announces "Hello Spiral." On "The Sea Incertain," they emerge from the stops and starts of the piano's careful explorations, pushing the instrument out of focus and out of the picture. A paranoid hum underpins "The Relay and "Crappie Tactics." There is beauty throughout Upgrade & Afterlife, but it's almost entirely on Gastr's terms. Grubbs' gorgeous vocal melody on "The Relay" carries some of his most cryptic imagery. "Cooked corn in formaldehyde/Popcorn in an airtight jar," he sings, backed by a dissonant piano. The album's biggest surprises are its bookends: "Our Exquisite Replica of 'Eternity'" (an absurd opening statement) may someday be recognized as the perfect piece of film music, capable of communicating as much paranoia, suspense, and terror as a director could with his/her camera. It's an ominous drift fractured by shards of electronic feedback, breaking through and breaking down like static between alien stations before closing with mournful trumpets. Meanwhile, Jim O'Rourke's performance of John Fahey's "Dry Bones in the Valley" ends the album with pure fresh air, resolving every awkward moment offered up in the preceding 37 minutes. Joined by Tony Conrad, the pair embark on an exploration of the violinist's micro-tonal drones that follow the album into the sunset." - AMG

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