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White/Lichens - White/Lichens

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Artist: White/Lichens

Album: White/Lichens

Label: Holy Mountain

Review date: Jul. 2, 2007

This record’s five tracks are named after demons that were “evoked and compelled into obedience by King Solomon, contained in a bronze vessel that was sealed with magic symbols.” I think my copy is made of plastic and aluminum, and I suppose that science also played a part in binding the encoded sounds to their receptacle, but otherwise the claim doesn’t seem too far off. White/Lichens encompasses serene drones and firestorms, and while each track writhes with wildness, it is nonetheless quite contained.

White/Lichens is the ongoing collaboration of Chicago-based Lichens (a.k.a. Robert Lowe) and White/Light (Jeremy Lemos and Matt Clark). Both performers love the drone, but they approach it from different angles. Lichens’ excellent Kranky releases and live performances, which generally take place on a prayer rug laid over a stick rock club floor, evoke a palpable yet non-specific spiritual feeling. He sustains musical interest by switching instruments, using acoustic guitar, piano and percussion to wrap ribbons of melody around stacked loops of wordless vocals. But Lowe also likes to rock out; “Bune,” the centerpiece of his second album Omns, strikes a heroic electric guitar pose that can stand without embarrassment next to Neil Young’s playing on the Dead Man soundtrack. This is his common ground with White/Light, whose early Chicago appearances were volume-rich servings of wall-to-wall guitar feedback. Since then they’ve refined their approach so that you can hear countless levels of swirling, pulsing activity behind the still-present wall of whisker-singeing noise.

The 19-minute opening track “Cimejes, Or Cimeies, Or Kimares” is not so much a wall but a billowing curtain of sound, its folds of piercing, grumbling, swirling feedback in constant flux. Next come three more manageably sized pieces, each clocking at about four minutes, and each centered on a specific texture. “Stolas, Or Stolos” feels like an underworld journey; guitar glisses trace the dimly lit path while synths hiss and basses burp like hungry reptilian tunnel-dwellers, just waiting for a traveler to fall behind and supply their next meal. “Belial” is a big, angry buzz, the sound of the hive just before the bees fly off to defend it, and “Amdusia, Or Amdukias” is higher and calmer; to steal a line from Tom Verlaine, it’s like walking around in the ring of a bell.

“Bael” closes the record with another epic, but one that seems very methodologically different from what has come before. If the rest of the record articulates a shared language, this one is an exhilarating blow-out argument in which each side lets fly in their own tongue, like a shout-fest between a traveler and a merchant at a crossroads bazaar. Ultimately they collapse, spent, but only after one hell of a fight. Individually, White/Light and Lichens are well worth your time, but the value of their summit is more than merely additive, and the product pretty addictive.

By Bill Meyer

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