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The Iditarod - The Ghost, the Elf, the Cat and the Angel

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Artist: The Iditarod

Album: The Ghost, the Elf, the Cat and the Angel

Label: Blue Sanct

Review date: May. 28, 2002

This autumn the Ptolemaic Terrascope, the long running and much loved fanzine dedicated to all things psychedelic, will host its fifth annual psych-fest, Terrastock 5. Past Terrastocks have attracted some of the more fabled names in contemporary otherworldliness (Acid Mothers Temple, The Olivia Tremor Control, Sonic Youth, Bardo Pond, Jim O' Rourke, Neutral Milk Hotel, Jessamine, and Charlambides) and have even coaxed some of the psychedelia's allusive godfathers of astral-travel out of retirement (The Silver Apples and The Electric Prunes). Sandwiched and stuffed between these legends and heroes is always a colorful horde of impossibly obscure artists that only a fully functioning Ptolemaic Terrascope could have located, artists who by their own ascetic and outsiderish design might (for better or for worse) otherwise remain unheard.

The Iditarod, a pagan folk-psych duo (Carin Wagner and Jeffrey Alexander) from Providence, Rhode Island, is group of such artists. Their latest full-length The Ghost, The Elf, The Cat, and The Angel combines eclectic acoustic instrumentation (acoustic guitars, tamboura, dulcimers, bongos, bells, singing bowls, musical saws) with electronics (moogs, turntables, phonographs) in meandering arrangements and ambient treatments of medieval folk songs. Titles like "The Roots of The Butterfly Bush", "Afternoons Like This Are Hard To Come By", and "New Magic in a Dusty World" might lead one to think that The Ghost, The Elf, The Cat, and The Angel should be catalogued along side the Brit-folk romps of The Pentangle, Fairport Convention, and The Incredible String Band, but this is not the case. Electronic drones and layers of low-end strings expand the songs and turn them into brooding pieces of ambient bad vibe. Although the influence of 60's British folk is clearly evident on their cover of the traditional "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" (a song that Pentangle made famous in '68) The Iditarod's somber approach gives the song a hollow funereal feel that sounds like it is being sung by heavily sedated Nico or a half-asleep Mary Timony.

These comparisons could be compliments or insults depending on your politics, either way I don't believe The Iditarod have hit their stride yet. The ever present Grimm's fairy tale and druid aesthetic wears thin after a couple of minutes and the band too often sacrifices the subtleties of songcraft in favor of dark atmospherics (a fate I'm afraid too many psych-bands succumb to). Fans of Loren Mazzacane Connors and Ghost (two Terrastock faves) may enjoy The Ghost, The Elf, The Cat, and The Angel, but I only say this because the patience I lose with The Iditarod is the same patience I lose with them. Too much attention to texture and mood simply leaves the songs self-conscious and unmoving. Mixing the detached ethereality of great British folk with the tones and textures of the contemporary avant-garde can be a match made in psych-heaven, but more often than naught, it comes across as forced and transparent. If you really need such a thing to get you through the night, you might do better by P.G. Six's recent Parlor Tricks And Porch Favorites, the Tower Recordings re-issue of Folkscene, Appendix Out's The Night Is Advancing, or even Alastair Galbraith's Cry.

By Daniel Dineen

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