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Valet - Blood is Clean

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Artist: Valet

Album: Blood is Clean

Label: Kranky

Review date: Jun. 28, 2007

Just recently, my fellow Dusted scribes and I engaged in what has become a periodic e-mail exchange about the music we’ve loved of late. I’m always terrible at compiling lists, especially under the scrutiny of such big-eared authorities. I managed to arrange a modest inventory of the new-ish records I’ve been digging, but somehow forgot to include my favorite release of the year: Blood is Clean, by Valet. Consider this review atonement for the omission.

Valet is the nom de plume of Portland experimental stalwart Honey Owens, who has logged time with space cadets Jackie-O Motherfucker and free-form electronic artistes Nudge. Owens, whether in a band or as a solo artist, has always followed her own creative impulses, which have auspiciously guided her through many a musical mutation.

Valet occupies a shadow realm between composition and unstructured ambience, employing minimal percussion and gauzy guitar to create a trance-like atmosphere. The strength of this record — a Kranky reissue of a self-released home recording — is in its suitability to several levels of listening. The sonic details are perfect for extended headphone indulgences, yet it makes great background music, too. Like Brian Eno and Jon Hassell’s joint experiments in anthropological ambience, Valet establishes a “fourth world,” one in which substratal sounds seamlessly merge with contemporary electronic jiggery.

Owens has stated that she seeks to be “a medium channeling sounds from an unknown place, opening up and spilling out onto the computer-tape.” Score. Blood is an elemental delight, an artifact of hypnotic potency that distinguishes itself among similarly conceptual works. Actually, the album sounds like it was beamed directly from Owens’ basal ganglia. (That’s the primitive forebrain region under the cortex, for those not hip to neuroscientific jargon.)

Part of the attraction is Owens’ voice, which is honeyed, indeed. When she sings “My blood is clean, but the devil’s in me,” it sounds like the ghost of Nico haunting a delta blues crossroads. Her words are phantasmal guideposts, illuminating the album’s darkest corners with lambent poetics.

Some pieces, such as the disjointed “Burmajuana” and the trance-like “Mystic Flood,” serve as near-subliminal links between the album’s more delineated tracks. Yet even these sound supernatural. The eerie bass line and airy vocals on “Tame all the Lions” create an abstract weave, while “My Volcano”’s clean electric guitar bubbles from a crag in the apex of a majestic drone mountain.

Too many experimental albums are self-indulgent to the point of impenetrability. Not so with Blood is Clean, which presents an unobstructed map of Owens’ musical mind. You can admire the topography from a distance, but the best way to experience the terrain is by excursion.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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