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Gown - Sacred Mountains

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Artist: Gown

Album: Sacred Mountains

Label: Ecstatic Yod

Review date: Feb. 21, 2006

Okay, I'm sure it means I'm an old fogey, but when I got this for review I knew it was gonna be good. I mean, it's a vinyl LP in a cheap-ass brown cardboard sleeve, hand-painted on the front (you can, like, feel the paint), with a sticker on the back listing the songs. I swear, every album I own with a hand-painted cover is good. There's just no way that someone's going to waste their time painting every copy of their album unless they goddam know it's good.

Then again, there's no insert or anything with this, so I'm operating beneath a shroud of mystery here. As a reviewer I should impart wisdom about the participants and their no-doubt varied histories, but since "shroud of mystery" could easily serve as this album's subtitle, it might be for the best to leave things that way. But no, as a modern reviewer I resort to the www and learn a little, like Gown is a lone Canadian, and Charalambides' Christina Carter toured with Gown as a duo. There you go.

The two songs on side A are "Honest Water" and "Dishonest Water," so we have both sides of the coin covered. Layers of reverbed, picked guitar wash along until some vocals come in, intoned words entreating us to say our prayers. The vocals, it must be said, detract from the music; they're very dry, flat, and, well, flat. At least an effort to match the notes fluttering by beneath the vocals would've not been amiss. Luckily, the vocals are intermittent, and the guitars keep their droning, echoing part of the bargain. "Dishonest Water" skitters along through a morass of late-night dark woods delayed guitar and delicate traceries of notes, certainly identifying Charalambides and Ash Castles as aesthetic kinfolk one way or another.

Three songs reside on the B-side. Oddly, the first – not the last – is called "This Will End.” Tape echoes swell and recede, tips and taps break apart into low-fi fragments of sound while slow, tentative guitar notes fall like the raindrops referenced by the vocals. Which, again, are dry and up-front, somewhat damaging the atmosphere generated by the music. Somehow if the vocals were mixed lower or matched the reverberations of the guitar, they'd be less out of place.

"Two Day Sale" is a similar piece of work, while finisher "The Price is Seven" takes a heavier, more harrowing path. Strummed guitar and stately bass serve as foundation for layers of wailing vocals that hover somewhere between plaintive and menacing in a Wicker Man kinda way. While the earlier part of this album is meditative night-soul music, this song will put the bad into your trip if you're not ready for it. Some folks will no doubt find it falls into their 'difficult listening' department, but looked at as the backwoods blues equivalent of Keiji Haino's vocalizations, it definitely says something. Up to you what that is, tho.

Despite any criticisms herein, the hand-painted cover theory of quality continues to ring true. This is a good one for the 12 people left with working turntables, and we'll enjoy it, thanks.

By Mason Jones

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