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Silk Flowers - Ltd. Form

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Artist: Silk Flowers

Album: Ltd. Form

Label: Post Present Medium

Review date: Mar. 11, 2011

The synthesizer’s return to the landscape of underground rock and pop music – as a lead instrument, not something used like a food additive to thicken or sweeten a particular song – has opened a door in much the same way the affordability of these instruments did throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, back when there was still an edge, and it still had the potential to cut away from the status quo. Oftentimes, the synthesizer is used as a stopgap or an excuse for those who have a song in their hearts but not the means to issue forth its contents. I’ve got a pile of records for review in Still Single that will counter any arguments you might have to the above statement.

Of course, there is artistry about the instrument. One of the more acknowledged paths that such artistry has taken — namely, the use in creating highly emotional music that uses a clinical stillness or manner of order as the impetus for delivering that feeling to the listener — is the one taken by New York trio Silk Flowers. Without drums, or any meaningful use of acoustic instruments of any kind, the group resurrects the spectre of Thatcher-era synth-pop without any pretense to speak of. In doing so, their music evokes specific images and ideas of life that surrounded this sort of music when it originated. And yet, further listens to Ltd. Form dispel any intimations of boosterism or historical revisionism. This is accomplished because Aviram Cohen, Ethan Swan and Peter Schuette made a record strong enough to fit in the canon itself, and with nothing but the calendar year (and a modern presence) to tell us otherwise, we must take it for what it is.

What it is, then, is a very moving, highly structured encapsulation of technique. Sequencing of the songs and the album itself seems to have been a painstaking process, even in light of modern-day editing software. The sound of the album is vastly cleaned up from past efforts (credit producer Amanda Warner, a.k.a. MNDR, for the clarity of the proceedings and for bringing across a full, if not exactly sterile sound far removed from the tedium of lower fidelity). Melodies are layered on top of one another, but never feel crowded. The group is content to allow two-thirds of the album to pass along without lyrics or singing in the traditional pop sense (maybe four-ninths if you count the wordless “ooh”-ing of “Present Dreams”); those that do feature vocals deliver them in a largely sullen, stoic baritone, redolent of teen goth misery. Yet, the results are still compelling enough to captivate across a fairly brief runtime, and to compel you to start it over and experience it again.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Ltd. Form, as well as writing about it, is the unassuming stance taken by these nine songs. Since they could very easily have surfaced in 1983 or 1985, their precedents are out in the open; this doesn’t necessarily make for as exciting a read as it is a listen, and even then, some folks are going to be averse to this kind of music, due to their associations with the time and place. Maybe a good thing to note about Silk Flowers is that this trio isn’t trying to achieve any sort of purity, but instead is writing songs in a style that the world at large has forgotten, and doing such an excellent job at it that we’re not of the mind to question it. Its earliest songs play like a car whose engine can’t turn over, built around rhythmic loops and “Chopsticks”-esque rudiments, but the underlying arrangements avoid the “minimal” ghetto modern synth/wave acts have found themselves in. “Fruit of the Vine” is one such example; moody as most could stand, the cantoring vocals crooning about “the bitter taste in my mouth said it was too soon too eat … then I thought about it, and I wanted more.”

As the record settles into its paces, more daring attempts at melody and groove show themselves, with the three best songs hovering right in the middle, one after another, those aforementioned lyrics foreshadowing my experience with the record over the past few months. There’s little else I could tell you about Ltd. Form, other than it is a sterling example of genre, that it’s moved me in ways that much more traditionally expressive records could not, and that it stands out in a crowd of faceless posture-holding minions as a product of a band exactly aware of who they are and what they do. As with nearly every example of this kind of successful music, however, the musicians always seem to make some significant change that warps not only its core sound, but the perception of the band, as well. I am ready (though not expecting) to be disappointed by Silk Flowers’ next batch of recordings, if only because Ltd. Form comes so close to perfection this time around.

By Doug Mosurock

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