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Crescent - By the Roads and the Fields

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Artist: Crescent

Album: By the Roads and the Fields

Label: FatCat

Review date: Dec. 18, 2003

Crescent are the most eclectic and idiosyncratic of the cadre of bands (Amp, Flying Saucer Attack, Movietone, Third Eye Foundation, Foehn and Light) that emerged from Bristol, England in the mid-‘90s. Beginning with the first single on Planet Records, which laid out a thick swath of fluctuating noise to the spindly and fractured Electronic Sound Constructions (released under the Crescent name but mostly the work of Matt Jones) and the catch-all Collected Songs album that swept up a bunch of home recordings from 1995 to 1998, the quartet in all of its guises has veered a bit, but always ended up with an identifiable feel and identity.

Even in a “scene” marked by home recording and a preference for the indistinct and inward, Crescent stick to an informal and ramshackle recording process. Ostensibly a quartet, and one that shares members with Movietone at that, Crescent always seemed to be Matt Jones’ vehicle. The label one-sheet indicates these tracks were recorded on 8-track in a variety of venues and settings. Even given the vagaries of the settings By The Roads And The Fields has a unity of purpose and aesthetic.

The first distinguishing characteristic of the new album is its clarity. Jones' vocals are far more distinct than they were on past recordings. Though he is not exactly a commanding vocalist, Jones has placed his singing at the center of most of the songs. Although instrumental blurring and experimental techniques litter the album (including a really adept use of dub techniques for the drumming), the music on By The Roads... is sharp. "Fountains" practically jumps out of the speakers with an insistent rhythm section and stabbing organ chords that are quickly followed by a horn section and sax solo. The final cut on the album "Structure and Form' is fundamentally a three-sided conversation between acoustic bass, piano and reeds with vocals and percussion intruding to make a point from time to time, before the entire piece almost imperceptibly shifts into a gorgeous drone made by bowed wine glasses.

Given the title, you would expect the lyrical content of the album to focus on the pastoral, though that really seems to oversimplify the feel of the album. The song "New Leaves,” for example, revolves around foliage but that could easily be a tree seen from an apartment in the city. The general feel that I get is of an attention to passing details and a concomitant to the slow and deliberate examination of them.

Like walking out of a smoky bar into the streets of a small town at dusk, the album has a mood and impression to it that can't be easily defined. Given the sporadic release schedule Crescent adheres to, it might be easy to overlook By The Roads And The Fields. Hopefully the time it took to record the album won't adversely affect its reception. I'd recommend that you seek it out, as the rewards of the album should outlast many of the releases of late 2003.

By Bruce Adams

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