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Larsen - Musm

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Artist: Larsen

Album: Musm

Label: Enterruption

Review date: Jul. 28, 2004

Even though they started in the mid-’90s, few outside of their native Italy had heard of Larsen prior to the release of their second album, Rever, on Michael Gira's Young God imprint in 2002. Although musically compelling, the record's notice was undoubtedly helped by the peculiar set of circumstances that surrounded its creation: Having received a series of carefully packaged and anonymous CD-Rs from the band over the preceding couple of years, Gira was then given an undisclosed (but apparently large) sum of cash and a plane ticket to Italy, where he recorded the band without ever seeing them.

With the release of their third album Musm the band (reduced to a quartet now after the departure of Silvia Grosso) has stated that they would like to get away from the story surrounding their second full-length. And while that tale does little to describe the actual sound of Larsen, it goes a surprising length at detailing the impact their music has on the listener. And as Michael Gira's experiences recording the band indicate, the album plays like a peep show into the private rituals and sounds of a deeply personal group of individuals.

Musm is actually a collection of older material, ranging from a few tracks from their out of print debut No Arms No Legs: Identification Problems to some soundtrack material for a film called CARTOANIMALETTIMATTI about 20th century animator Windsor McCay. What's most surprising about the record is its relative cohesion while spanning numerous years and creative impulses.

The tracks culled from the first full-length are the most subdued of the bunch, revealing a pensive approach to experimental rock dynamics that would eventually be blown wide open on the soundtrack material. To be sure, some of Larsen's approach could be described as post-rock. But whereas many of the current proponents of such a guitar-based sound favor more outward and obvious maneuvers (i.e. the crescendo), Larsen look inward towards sustaining a mood throughout the duration of their tracks' twists and turns. "Montage," for instance, balances slow drones and percussive clatter neatly before segueing into a more traditional rock structure, while "Rebirth" makes effective use of recordings of children and flowing water to add subtle layers to their brooding instrumental.

The soundtrack material makes up the best of Musm, beginning with the impressive, anthemic stomp of "How a Mosquito Operates," allowing a martial rhythm to develop amidst a sea of sawing drones, wheezing accordion lines, and gently-plucked guitar. This approaches carries itself over into the booming initial stages of "The Sinking of the Lusitania," only to gradually fade back into the realms of the gracefully elegiac. The remaining tracks that round out Musm's ten-song cycle are the most recent. Their take on the Barrett-era Pink Floyd number "Vegetable Man," the most surprising and best of these, is billed as less of a cover and more of a derivation. Fitting, too, as their are few actual signifiers of the original track kept in their interpretation, favoring instead an overall thematic and modal approach that wraps itself around clanking percussion.

While Larsen's initial impulses had been intimately private, over the past couple of years the band has gradually started to seep out from their rehearsal space to approach a larger listening body. What's remarkable about their music is that they have done this without seeming to sacrifice any of their approach or original artistic impulse. Larsen's music feels less like an album and more like eavesdropping. Their sound emanates from no specific origin, existing before the listener arrives, and implying that it will permeate long after any perceptive ears have fallen deaf. While rooted in familiar structures and traditions, it is the overall mood and mentality, such as the one that prevented them from revealing themselves to Michael Gira a couple of years ago, that lends Musm its subtle, beguiling charm.

By Michael Crumsho

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