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Gareth Davis & Stephen R. Smith - The Line Across

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Artist: Gareth Davis & Stephen R. Smith

Album: The Line Across

Label: alt.vinyl

Review date: Apr. 9, 2010

Outside of the Jewelled Antler outfit Thuja, Steven R. Smith doesn’t play much with others. Instead the Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist records alone at home (scroll to the bottom of this page for a view of his lair and his gear), assembling moody soundtracks for inward journeys back to the age of steam.

So it means something when the guy records with anyone else, and it means more that he’s made two LPs in a row with Gareth Davis. Given that the Amsterdam-based clarinetist tends to play modern classical repertoire and records with the likes of Martin Stig Andersen and Machinefabriek, they aren’t an obvious pairing, but that might make it an even better one.

The Line Across, much more than their first LP Westering, is a departure from Smith’s body of work. While analog effects, exotic instruments like the spike fiddle and nail violin, and a warmed-up tube amp define his sound, Smith is at heart a tunesmith, a writer and player of melodies.

But not here — The Line Across is all about texture and time. The LP comprises two side-long pieces composed of layers of feedback, resonance, and seriously low reeds (Davis plays contrabass and bass clarinets throughout) that pass over each other like banks of mist and low-lying clouds. You have to wait for the melodies because they emerge so slowly and are mixed so low that they’re more like extra blankets on the bed than the top spread. The music’s slow motion makes it more potent; by standing in opposition to an everyday life of data overload, it offers a powerful antidote.

By Bill Meyer

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