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Blithe Sons - Arm of the Starfish

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Artist: Blithe Sons

Album: Arm of the Starfish

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Apr. 14, 2004

We Walk the Young Earth’s cover shot of a rainbow stretching across an expanse of swampy, infant forest, was the perfect introduction to the San Franciscan free-folk experimentalists Blithe Sons. Even the record’s title provided a spot-on description of the blooming drones and sublime scrapes that provide the foundation of the group’s sound.

As the Sons, Glenn Donaldson and Loren Chasse – head honchos of freeform Cali collective Jewelled Antler – specialize in shimmering music that invokes the subtle shifts of nature and tiny reverberations of a growing world. The songs evolve slowly, allowing for fleeting acoustic guitar licks to sneak up from under long harmonium hums, merging with improvised vocal meanderings and delicate field recordings.

On Arm of the Starfish, the group’s second record for the Family Vineyard label, Donaldson and Chasse add an aquatic theme to their improvised compositions, creating an aural ode to the Pacific Ocean. The duo record outdoors, often settled on the side of the sea, and the sound of gusting wind and rolling waves are as important to the music as their more traditional instruments.

Each of the five tracks is an exercise in patience, developing over time through the subtlest shifts in instrumentation. Gentle melodies rise and fall like tides. Individual notes hold for ages before slowly dissolving into the ether, allowing another in the many layers of sound to take its place.

While Arm of the Starfish isn’t as immediately accessible as We Walk the Young Earth, the disc ultimately reveals a more detailed portrait of the Blithe Sons’ universe. This is unyieldingly voyeuristic music, highly personal sounds that allow the listener to eavesdrop on the most intimate actions of the natural world.

By Ethan Covey

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