ELFIN SADDLE – ‘Devastates’ CD/LP
Elfin Saddle deepens its compositional and conceptual agenda on Devastates, the band’s third full-length album and its most urgent, ornate and impassioned work to date. The Montreal group, led by multi-instrumentalists Emi Honda and Jordan McKenzie (who also share vocal duties), has always shown a profound engagement with issues of environmental sustainability and the emotional impact of economic/political ideologies that continually foreclose on the possibility of genuine, progressive renewal and redirection. With Devastates, this is explicit in the lyrical narrative of the album as a whole and implicit in the band’s use of found and re-purposed objects to create its soundworld. The new album weds an operetta-style song cycle to an organic, junkshop aesthetic to great effect, forging a unique hybrid folk music that weaves Honda’s trilling vocals (often singing in Japanese) and McKenzie’s woodsy, unaffected baritone with threads of clattering steam-engine percussion, ukulele, accordion, glockenspiel and pump organ. The addition of Kristina Koropecki’s cello alongside long-standing third member Nathan Gage (Shapes & Sizes) on upright bass allows for a doubly melodic/rhythmic low-end. This is profoundly un-escapist and engaged folk music that avoids the obvious trappings of folk traditions, grounding the listener in a sonic and narrative terrain that stakes out a highly original and distinctive definition of protest song. More info, including an audio stream of Devastates in its entirety, is available here.
ERIC CHENAUX – Guitar & Voice’ CD/LP
With this fourth album for the Constellation, simply and aptly titled Guitar & Voice, Eric Chenaux – one of Canada’s most respected and long-standing experimental guitar players and songwriters – has made what in a literal sense can be called his first solo album. The recording features only his playing and singing; no guest or supporting musicians, minimal overdubs, and a rigorous structure that alternates back and forth between longform, mostly vocal-based tunes and shorter, cacophonously harmonious bowed-guitar instrumentals. Chenaux sees the entirety of Guitar & Voice as balladry. The album’s four tunes with singing are clearly ballads, but filtered through Chenaux’s uniquely distorted, refracted, genre-defying lens. With the exception of “Sliabh Aughty” – a beautifully fried 8-minute Hendrixian workout (were Jimi channeling Braveheart rather than “home of the brave”) – all the album’s instrumentals are miniatures of a sort. Each is a bowed guitar piece, recorded acoustically, re-amplified through Leslie speakers and re-recorded as installation pieces in the studio. Each shifts and slides along a stream of harmonic consonances and dissonances wherein melodic motifs are continually subject to slippage, and each is intended to frame and expand the sentiments (and sentimentalism) of balladry that inform the album as a whole.