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Of - Rocks Will Open

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Artist: Of

Album: Rocks Will Open

Label: Digitalis

Review date: Mar. 19, 2009

Loren Chasse’s third readily available full-length as Of is music to be experienced more than listened to. Imagine yourself sitting silently in a room in the nighttime, the windows open, the natural and man-made sounds of the outside world blending with those of the inside (and your inner) world, and you get pretty close to what Chasse achieves on these eight pieces. Using everything from a custom-made dulcimer, drums and a harmonium to singing bowls, hand-held tape recorders and gravel, he builds expansive, billowing tone-clouds that teem with activity, at times coming off as a more compressed and event-filled version of Mirror.

Chasse strives to create this kind of experiential, environmental music in all his projects. Under his own name he transforms field recordings into richly textured collages, while as one half of the Blithe Sons with Glenn Donaldson, he pursues more song-based explorations. But where those projects give the listener hooks to hang some kind of narrative on (a concrete sense of place with the field recordings and more dynamic song structures with Donaldson), Of offers something much more subtle and challenging.

For each piece, Chasse follows roughly follows the same template. He covers the tonal spectrum end-to-end, with a droning, reverb-heavy low end, a throbbing mid-range and singing high-frequency tones that dominate the foreground of the mix. He then weaves in shorter, more dynamic events, like the slow, metallic shudder of a cymbal or the resonant, close-mic’d thump of a floor tom. These pieces aren’t composed so much as they seem to happen and grow of their own will.

This ambiguous non-structure means that, at times, Rocks Will Open feels unwieldy, and with a running time of just over 60 minutes, a touch of ennui sets in during the album’s second half. Chasse’s approach simply doesn’t always lend itself well to the album format. The 3" CD or a one-sided LP seem more natural homes for his diffuse language. The most successful pieces here, like "Violets in the Mountains Have Broken the Rocks" and "The Paper Raft," have the most instrumental activity, their near-melodies and half-themes counterpointing with the crackling field recordings and thick reverb haze.

That Chasse’s ideas don’t always make for good albums, though, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be heard. On the contrary, the concentrated, meditative space that Chasse evokes at every turn acts as a much-needed counterweight to the aggressive, at times oppressive, sensory and information deluge we deal with on a daily basis. Put another way, he makes you slow down and contemplate your own inner and outer worlds. That his own attempt to balance these doesn’t always work just reminds us of how difficult it really is.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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