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Altar Eagle - Mechanical Gardens

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Artist: Altar Eagle

Album: Mechanical Gardens

Label: Type

Review date: Oct. 22, 2010


Altar Eagle - "Honey" (Mechanical Gardens)


Brad Rose and Eden Hemming-Rose are the husband and wife duo behind the ever-productive Digitalis Industries. Since it’s upgrade from Xeroxed zine to multifarious website in 2003, Foxy Digitalis — the online publication arm of the mini-corporation — has reviewed, promoted and compiled an immense array of experimental releases in just about any medium available. With their record labels, Digitalis Recordings and Digitalis Limited (and several sub-labels), the Rose’s have released more than 300 LPs, CDs, CD-Rs and cassettes, all manufactured out of their Tulsa, Okla., home. To say that Digitalis has its fingerprints all over the contemporary experimental music scene would be an understatement.

Somehow, the pair have also found time to record music: Brad under a number of aliases and with dozens of groups, most notably as The North Sea; and Eden as Mass Ornament and Wax Ghost, with credits in a few groups as well. Their music has never been straightforward; it is heavily influenced by the vast experimentation of the music they release through Digitalis, often with entry points of accessibility. Altar Eagle (the evolution of their previous incarnation, Corsican Paintbrush), however, sees the pair in a whole new light: dream-pop (though there are still plenty of crunchy drum machines, over-modulating synthesizers and guitar feedback to keep their core fan base happy).

Mechanical Gardens has an anachronistic sound. As mentioned before, a dream-pop core permeates most every track. Elements of shoegaze, noise pop, krautrock, post-punk, experimental techno, minimal wave and psychedelia all make regular appearances as well. The music offers very little negative space as feedback, and other noise byproducts echo and mutate off of soothing melodies. Brad and Eden often harmonize their hushed vocals or trade verses buried beneath a wall of mercurial synthesizers and slowly erupting guitars. They’re no Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher, but it’s effective. Mechanical Gardens is warm, catchy and sweet, but also noisy, crunchy and fuzz-ridden; in other words, post-shoegaze at its finest.

Tracks like “Battlegrounds” and “You Lost Your Neon Haze” epitomize the Altar Eagle sound. A simple loop, typically a percussive melody, is established via drum machine or synthesizer as the song’s backbone. This is either layered in cascades of similar loops or slowly bent out of focus to create a shimmer-like texture (though with the equipment used, it’s more of a frayed neon light than any sort of natural glimmering). To fully encapsulate the early 1990s ethereal-as-a-way-of-life vibe, Brad’s guitar often drops in with a healthy dose of extra noise, a la Jesus and Mary Chain. All the while, the twisting male/female vocals give the songs a helix of personality.

Obviously, Mechanical Gardens does not pack much of a revolutionary punch, but it certainly is one of the better homages to the beauty-in-noise scene of decades past. The Rose’s have both ears to the underground as well, and their variant approaches to songwriting create a pastiche wide enough that any sort of pinpoint influence is blurred. And as far as an early attempt into the world of dream-pop for the productive pair, they have twisted, stretched and blown out their catchy melodies to wonderfully excessive proportions.

By Michael Ardaiolo

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