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Black Forest / Black Sea - Black Forest / Black Sea

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Artist: Black Forest / Black Sea

Album: Black Forest / Black Sea

Label: Music Fellowship

Review date: Feb. 28, 2007

Providence-based duo Black Forest / Black Sea have spent the past five or so years hovering on the fringes of a psych scene that has seen its popularity expand exponentially. Fronted by Jeffrey Alexander and Miriam Goldberg – they run the free-folk gathering ground Secret Eye Records – the group has seemed content to hone its sound from the sidelines.

Goldberg and Alexander got their start plucking strings in the Iditarod, one of the first bands to mine the field of post-Tom Rapp folk balladry that eventually kick-started the freak folk scene – and provides most of the inspiration for the Secret Eye catalogue. When the Iditarod fizzled prior to the release of the excellent 2xCD Yuletide, Goldberg and Alexander started recording as Black Forest / Black Sea.

The 2003’s self-titled debut BF / BS disc, jointly released by Secret Eye and Last Visible Dog, found the band stripping the Iditarod’s wintry dirges bare and recasting them as eerie, gothic gusts of cello and guitar. Follow-up studio release Forcefields and Constellations, the live Radiant Symmetry disc and a live split with Christina Carter found the band reaching deeper into the world of free-drone and experimental clatter. Tireless gigging across North America and Europe and the influence of friends such as Carter and Italian guitarist Stefano Pilia helped to tighten and elongate the group’s sound.

The band’s new release, curiously their second self-titled effort, is the next step of an evolution begun with Forcefields. This time there are only two lengthy tracks – “Side I” and “Side II” – and each unfolds at a predictably glacial pace. Pilia is back in sideman role, as are two of Goldberg’s sisters, Margot and Gillian. The music is a backwoods cauldron of disparate elements bled together into one seamless fabric. Teary cello moans and steel-string guitar scrapes are augmented, then washed away by percussive clatter and feedback. Electronics mutate the hum of strings into a dense gale before collapsing into clear swathes of crystalline folk.

This is demanding, yet not entirely difficult listening, as somehow the mass manages to hold up – the whole clearly becoming greater, and stranger, than the sum of its collective parts. Once again, Black Forest / Black Sea have pushed themselves deeper into their craft and in the process produced something fantastic and wholly other.

By Ethan Covey

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