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Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar - Gyromancy

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Artist: Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar

Album: Gyromancy

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Apr. 7, 2008

For the third installment of Thrill Jockey's limited edition book + CD series, the Chicago-based label calls on a couple of their hometown artists to contribute: Robert A.A. Lowe and Rose Lazar. Lowe's stock as a solo artist has steadily risen since 2004, when he distanced himself from 90 Day Men and started cultivating his Lichens moniker. Two full-lengths for Kranky Records as well as stints in White/Lichens and most recently, Singer, and Lowe's exposure as an outsider artist and musician is at an all-time high. Lazar, a graphic-designer and print-maker, runs The Great Lakes Goods, a card company whose endearing and minimal hand-printed designs are perfect for indie lovebirds everywhere. Together, they have handcrafted 100 unique booklets in custom-made fabric cases, packaged with a 3" mini-CD containing a single 15-minute track by Lowe.

The project is called Gyromancy, and like Daniel A.I.U. Higgs' entry in the series, its appeal is mostly in the aesthetic and visual sense. Higgs' entry contained a number of his Miró-inspired graphics that were intriguing in their pseudo-religious imagery, but the knotty lo-fi guitar meanderings that accompanied the book was a rather jagged pill to swallow. Lowe's audio contribution to Gyromancy, "Psygning Off,” is much easier on the ears, but should still remain as an accessory to the project rather than the focal point.

Lowe's composition won't be too surprising for those who are familiar with his solo work. It aptly fits the confines of his typical droning minimalism, though he does leave the electric guitar at home for this outing. Instead, he utilizes what sounds like an ARP 2500, better known as the analog modular synthesizer made famous in Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lowe utilizes it in a harp-like manner by continuously running up and down scales to create a twinkling, retro-sci-fi sound. The song doesn't as much develop linearly as ebb and flow in pattern-based segments. Two sections bookend soft tonal drones and other odd patterns that never really lead anywhere, but create an appropriate cyclical and unobtrusive atmosphere to accompany the artwork.

The 4"x6" soft-covered book is split between Lowe's and Lazar's art. Both fancy a minimal, sketch-like approach heavy on the texture and negative space. Lowe's pen-based drawings stem mostly from cellular imagery and patterns, and are then expanded into graphics inspired by nature (clouds, leaves, mushrooms, rain, etc.) as well as mystic and tribal influences. Lazar's are even more minimal, typically consisting of only rudimentary images. She does dabble in grayscaled watercolor though, which counteract nicely with Lowe's devotion to the pen. The images reflect her affection for the greeting card, however ‘off the beaten path’ her approach may be. No image in particular stands out for its artistic merit from either artist, but together, in their pocket-sized package, there is a particular enchantment to it.

Like Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot before it, Gyromancy is for the avid collectors. It's a pleasant package with an interesting, if forgettable, audio contribution from Lowe (which will frustrate Mac users everywhere because of its 3" size, unplayable in slot-loading CD players). But the point of this is the visual aesthetic and the tangible package; otherwise it would just be another torrent for you to catalog and forget about.

By Michael Ardaiolo

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