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Family Underground / Inca Ore - Riven / Birthday of Bless You

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Artist: Family Underground / Inca Ore

Album: Riven / Birthday of Bless You

Label: Not Not Fun

Review date: Aug. 1, 2008

Two new-ish records on Not Not Fun, whose run of cassettes and albums always deserves attention due to their capacity for turning up gems and unknown quantities among more predictable releases. Danish free sound outfit Family Underground have been plugging away for a while now, and I’d always thought their output a bit second-tier: nicely rendered drone that makes for a passable soundtrack – odd flashes of electricity, but nothing major.

They risk similar responses with parts of Riven, particularly when their guitars/electronics descend into rolling, mutant waves of distorted drone exploration, rather like an extremely lo-fi Sunn 0))). But the opening of “Terrestrial Receiver” suggests they’ve more strings to their bow: it’s quieter, more pensive, with vocal drones lost in delay and reverb, slowly sweeping between two notes, while junkyard metal tolls, sounding out an ominous clang. “Chapter of the Fog” swallows the entire flipside, and while it consists of variations on a theme, the streams of noise are rough, corrugated, as though they’re constantly breaking up the amp, and the interjection of babbling voices toward the end humanizes the piece. It’s not all powerful, but there are sections that surprise, and at the very least Family Underground have a failsafe sense of both pacing and duration.

It’s been a while since I last heard music from Inca Ore (a.k.a. Eva Saelens), though she was a welcome presence on Jackie-O Motherfucker’s recent Valley of Fire. On Birthday of Bless You, Saelens folds snippets of eschatological breath and sigh into dark, blurry snapshots of psychological inquiry: these short songs, buried in the murk and flutter of tape hiss (it’s as if the Dolby button was stuck in the ON position), are gorgeously indistinct. They have the quality of music that breathes very slowly, inhaling and exhaling at its own pace.

Saelens takes several minutes to enter “Creation,” for example, and preceding her snail-trail siren song is the simple, poised patter of drums, ringing out like metal vats played over a bottomless well. She sounds like she’s calling out from under a dulled record needle, trying to weave her way out of the grooves. On the blues plaint of “Lady Days,” she obsessively itches at one note, hitting an emotional tenor and delivery – simultaneously compulsive and languid – that Cat Power has been chasing unsuccessfully for years. There’s even a meta-cover of Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” should you need an entry point, though Saelens’s approach is reassuringly liberated, rather like Christina Carter’s heartbreaking re-readings of classic songwriting on her recent Masque Femine.

By Jon Dale

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