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Sightings - Arrived in Gold

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Artist: Sightings

Album: Arrived in Gold

Label: Load

Review date: Dec. 9, 2004

The work of poet/essayist Edward Dahlberg – emboldened by his determination to sweep the “dung out of the Augean stables of Literature” – is hardly a task most would find enticing. Yet, this curmudgeon wasn’t an example of the age-old writerly vitriol: Dahlberg’s creative afflatus is interesting for its dualism; it’s as much about destruction as it is creation.

The New York based trio Sightings is doing something along the same lines as Dahlberg: Make, Break Down, Repeat. Yet, it’s almost too easy to go the ‘negation’ route with ensembles that utilize traditional instrumentation to make non-traditional music. Reference points are connected half-heartedly, without amplification, or exegesis. Other significant facets are marginalized, too; like humor, which is seemingly the last trope noticed when guitars/keys, and even drums, are feeding back.

Similarly, Dahlberg, a self-described “jocose iconoclast,” was never truly received as such. Dahlberg’s fortified prose not only turned away frail readers, it stood as a printed challenge for the literati. Thankfully, we appear to have moved past this with music; Sightings aren’t making music out of some need for physical confrontation, they’re making it to confront their own selves – their own expectations, their own limits – these qualities, or states, are the stuff of personal analysis, not some childish challenge. If the ‘drone ambient’ is the new heavy metal of virility, neo ‘no-wave’ must be the new psychedelia of asceticism: Sightings, for all their blisteringly overdriven distortion and screeching feedback, are truly a trio concerned with the introspectively sparse combinations of sound. Denial is two-fold: Limits on instrumentation, and limits on that instrumentation’s yield. And relegating one’s self to the sonic corner has never sounded so interesting.

Arrived in Gold, Sightings’ fourth full-length, continues where Absolutes left off; that is, very much embedded in some sort of hyper music realism. Arrived in Gold isn’t some ‘disworlded’ fantasy; the sounds are very much part of collective existence. A walk through Times Square, a visit to a repairman’s shop, a kitchen’s walk-in cooler in the throes of a highly vocal fritz – all of these instances are as similar an aesthetic experience as listening to a Sightings record. Of course, these are activities seldom thought of for their aural yield, yet, even when the sounds are decontextualized and packaged as a musical document, it’s difficult to connect the dots when their line segments are indifferent to the marriage.

Perhaps it’s due to the disparate quality of influence that the band draws from. It’s significant that myriad voices are heard in so sparse a din. The loudest are also the most perplexing – a ‘noise’ band listening to techno? But, that’s exactly what some of the music seems to be built on, namely the bare beats of Thomas Brinkmann, or a I Care Because You Do era Aphex Twin. These are the sonic studs from which the musical hovel’s raised. The floors, walls, and windows are more obvious – there’s the scatting parataxis and ululation existential from Suicide’s first album, and a distinctly prominent Kollaps era Einstürzende Neubauten feel to this recording. Remarkably, all of the aforementioned influences are improved upon, with the addition of (over) amplified gamelan-esque piano, Crass’ martial drumming meets Kraftwerk’s monochromatic percussive programming, and guitars and keys emulating musique concrete treatments of jackhammers, ditch-witches, and saws.

Arrived in Gold’s first track, “One Out of Ten,” demonstrates all of the aforementioned techniques, serving as a nice template for the whole disc. Microphone pops morph into beats, an indifferent voice creeps up into the mix, synthesizer samples careen around, bass thuds slowly stomp over a sped-up recording of what sounds like the wah-wah’d guitar from Miles’ Rated X. All of what comes forth is made quickly one, and torn down into its distinct components even quicker, resulting in an airy mid-section that grows into a full instrumental reprise, finally topped off with bleeding-fist’d piano.

While Sightings aren’t on a quest to sweep the dung from the Augean stables of music proper, they are on a quest to palatably fuse iconoclasm and musical austerity. Unlike the unspoken transaction between author and reader vis-à-vis experimental prose, Sightings sound their intent at all decibels. Yet, this is intent for exclusive consumption: it’s Sightings that are put to the test. Any other pair of ears that happens to hear Arrived in Gold, or any of their other recordings for that matter, should consider themselves one of the fortunate.

By Stewart Voegtlin

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