|Photo by: Bandcamp|
Key Track: "Isolated Lights (again)"
When The Ramones picked up their guitars and hammered out their debut album in 1976, they did so understanding that their intentionally rough sound would shock the bourgeoisie, whose idea of rock music fell somewhere around Elton John. Little did they realize that they had invented a new concept in recording history, one that intentionally shunned the latest technology in clear recording quality for the love of pure sonic sludge.
Today, with the idea employed far outside the realm of abrasive punk, more experimental artists ironically use it for an artsy touch. Among them is The Caretaker, whose new release Extra Patience (After Sebald) uses, in his words, "a dust-caked haze of plangent keys" to explore uncharted territory of ambient music.
This EP contains extra recordings from the full Patience (After Sebald) album, which was a soundtrack to a film about W.G. Sebald, a German academic preoccupied with the effects of the Holocaust and World War II on his home country. Such dreary themes weren't lost on The Caretaker, who puts a darkly surreal take on the usual minimalism of soundtracks. Spacious, moody piano chords taken from Franz Schubert's "Winterreise" are nearly buried under tape hiss. Sometimes this is accompanied by a deep-voiced, operatic male singer who sounds like he has a fishbowl over his head.
The result? Strange psyche music, whose listening experience is akin to playing back old, distorted video footage and trying to determine what's going on. It alienates from the start with its low-fi quality, and only gets more disorienting as the tracks start to become longer and liberally use a reverse effect. Matters aren't helped by the fact that this EP contains less straight piano numbers than its parent album and more vocal experimentation.
But even for soundtrack music, this stuff is nauseously tedious. Although most of the tracks are no longer than two-and-a-half minutes, they all feel stretched to their breaking point. Fifteen-second phrases are repeated over and over throughout the duration of a song with no development whatsoever. Forget themes--every song is one long coda.
When additionally considering their remarkable similarity to one another, a track-by-track commentary would be mostly fruitless, yet a couple do deserve mention. "After the Earth Has Ground Itself Down" uses the piano's sustain pedal with different note combinations to create an alternately angelic and nightmarish atmosphere. The closing "Sebald" showcases the vocalist, who up until that point is pushed far back in the mix. The crackling sound combined with the powerful voice almost sounds like a radio broadcast from the '30s, which admittedly recreates what the German airwaves must have sounded like under Third Reich control.
Since radical shifts away from the norm like this inevitably draw love/hate reactions, and mood music is particularly subjective anyway, the rating above shouldn't be taken very seriously. Needless to say, anyone who gets a kick out of vibe-based as opposed to melody-based music will love Extra Patience (After Sebald) for how well it evokes confusion and paranoia. For everyone else it will probably work best as background for a Halloween display, but even so, it's no mean feat to take Schubert and some reverb and come up with a result this creepy.
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