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Death Chants - Natural History

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Artist: Death Chants

Album: Natural History

Label: Time-Lag

Review date: Mar. 13, 2006

As genres continue to liquefy into each other and separate out into individually crafted and organic mash-ups, the world begins to sound like a smaller friendlier place. As a band name, Death Chants is a total misnomer, this collective are far too alive and remarkable to be soundtracking any repetitive marches to the graveyard.

It’s easy to find a lot of music that’s based in the worlds of free playing and traditional structures/styles, and Death Chants aren’t alone in giving heavy nods to country and folk. But where many bands give in to crapulous backroom antics or moonshine madness, Death Chants are endearingly rickety, yet undoubtedly focused. They combine loose playing with long drifts and tentative steps into areas like drone and free playing. There’s an immediately warm lo-fi atmosphere on Natural History that appears to be rooted in the traditions of early American music.

The opening “A Dog in the Ether” begins conventionally on acoustic guitar and cello before gracefully flowing into areas of what should be on the border of discord. Instead, the cello swoops like John Cale’s viola, creating a raga-drone through the song. Following the same basic tenets, “River Road” tiptoes along through smog-infested feedback. A strum-along acoustic section moulds the song whole, as shimmering peaks and falls roll through. An accordion tries to steer the song back into the traditional world, but its foothold proves too loose, and the composition melts away like buffeting drifts of snow. The movements between wandering adrift and core melody make this 11-minute ride arresting from start to finish.

“States” wraps things up with a short ramshackle take on beginner’s garage rock, a decidedly odd touch. The loose and shaky percussion follows a battered acoustic guitar and kazoo-like sing-along vocal. There’s an unexpected flute line that, while eerily ethereal, holds the piece together quite well.

Natural History has many of the hallmarks of a debut – fresh, devoutly amateur and full of potential. I’m looking forward to finding out if future Death Chants hold the same charm and bizarrely bright edges.

By Scott McKeating

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