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Rachel's - Systems/Layers

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Artist: Rachel's

Album: Systems/Layers

Label: Quarterstick

Review date: Nov. 13, 2003


Although it seems to be a small distinction, Rachelís is a ďgroupĒ rather than a ďbandĒ. A loose collective of musicians based in Louisville, Kentucky, Rachelís makes music by slowly accumulating sounds and structures, be they complex cello parts or a field recording of a city train. That no distinction is made between the two elements is crucial to the groupís ongoing project. Rachelís are interested in sound, especially in the possibilities of combining seemingly unrelated pieces. It is sound for soundís sake, but not in such a way that seems superficial or aesthetically decadent. Rather, the musicians seem interested in a certain purity of sound that can be produced from anything, given the right inclination and a sensitivity to the overall structure of the piece.

Rachelís depends heavily on the classical tradition, especially in its instrumentation. Cello, French horn, violin, viola, and contrabass are used extensively, but in often awkward, unexpected ways. Drawing influence from composers like Reich and Glass, the strings on Systems/Layers often play around a single, insistent loop while other, more distant elements dart in and out of the frame. Often, tracks are defined more by silence than by any particular sound, as collected fragments unspool and voices become barely audible before being overtaken by a cool blast of feedback or a menacing run on the piano. A string part may start out with an almost aching beauty, before twisting into something strange and vaguely uncomfortable.

Many of these elements are somewhat familiar to Rachelís work, but some new elements have been introduced, which broadens the reach of Systems/Layers considerably. The first is the interweaving of field recordings, the second is the groupís work with the experimental theater company SITI. A process-oriented company, the two troupes create a long-standing and ongoing collaboration. While this is not explicit in the material on Systems/Layers, there is clearly a different working process here than on previous releases, and many of the tracks have an open, airy feel, as if theyíre waiting for another element to enter.

If Rachelís is less political and sonically adventurous than Godspeed You! Black Emperor, itís also less bombastic, with the players more interested in subtlety and gentle emotional coloring. Rachelís can effortlessly create beauty, but what saves the record from saccharine blandness are the arrangements that almost distrust the groupís strengths, refusing to leave beautiful passages uncomplicated by dissonance or some kind of sonic distraction. As such, itís a listen that is by parts gorgeously immersive and awkwardly difficult. The field recordings add an element of alienation, the sounds of trucks and machinery heard at the end of long, empty alleys. Itís this play between the external and the internal that gives the music its drive, and some real tension.

Ultimately, Rachelís produces music that eludes either description or comparison and demands, simply, to be heard. One of the few groups who have established a type of music that is almost wholly their own, Rachelís have continued along their strange, experimental path towards a unique use of sound that continues to produce rewarding results.

By Jason Dungan

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