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Sinoia Caves - The Enchanted Persuaded

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Artist: Sinoia Caves

Album: The Enchanted Persuaded

Label: Brah

Review date: Jan. 6, 2007

The Sinoia Caves, located in Zimbabwe, are a series of deep-water, limestone caves, used by Shona tribes for ritual executions (it's a long way down). Even now, as Zimbabwe collapses into civil unrest, the caves are considered one of the world's premiere dive spots, their crystalline waters extending at least 135 meters underground and maybe more. No one has ever really gotten to the bottom.

All this would be an interesting bit of trivia, nothing more, if it were not also such an apt metaphor for the music of Sinoia Caves, all chilly depths and liquid surfaces, cavernous mysteries and startling clarity. You feel, figuratively speaking, as if you are swimming through this album, viewing alien underwater landscapes with a detached, nearly numbing calm. The disc is the first solo project of Black Mountain collaborator Jeremy Schmidt, who has also made music with Pipedream and The Battles. Here his musical references lean towards 1970s German prog – synth mystics like Tangerine Dream, Amon Düül and Ash Ra Tempel – though the cuts lack the dance-insistent rhythms of much of these groups' output.

The long opening cut, "Dwarf Reaching the Arch Wonder," proceeds without a time signature for 16-plus minutes, wind-tunnel rushes intermixed with the subtle tinkling of bells; the first actual notes – a sort of droning organ tone – enter in only around the one-third marker. Wordless, synth-altered voices emerge even later on, disembodied and mysterious. The sounds coalesce into an evocation of journey, discovery, wonder, without ever falling into a recognizable theme.

A series of shorter, less ambitious compositions follow. "Naro Way" is an altered folk song bounded by glitchy, squiggly beats, while "Through the Valley" percolates krautrockishly through airbrushed synthetic tones. "Wicker Chair" sets acoustic guitar riffs in the foreground against the whoosh and hiss of electronics. All three cuts come in under four minutes and all follow recognizable, conventional time signatures.

Those are easier to process but far less memorable than the two extended cuts that bookend the album. The second of these, "Sundown in the New Arcades (Milky Way Echo)", is The Enchanted Persuaded's highlight, nearly 19 minutes of frigid mood and eerie keyboard reverberations, broken at intervals by a ragged bird's cry. Not really tethered to time, key or melody, the piece grows organically, tone on tone, into a gorgeous, deeply foreign landscape. You might be swimming through a bottomless cave or striding a post-nuclear plain…the sense of drama, awe, danger and limitless space envelopes you.

By Jennifer Kelly

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