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Pedestrian Deposit - Kithless

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Artist: Pedestrian Deposit

Album: Kithless

Label: Arbor

Review date: May. 23, 2012

What is the music of lack? This is the question the duo of Jonathan Borges and Shannon A. Kennedy have been chasing over the last four years as Pedestrian Deposit, a question that receives a definitive answer on Kithless. It’s their third full-length, an LP after two excellent, if underrated, CDs on Borges’s own Monorail Trespassing.

Originally started by Borges over a decade ago as a forum for exploring the structuring of extreme electronics, Pedestrian Deposit became a duo in 2008 when Kennedy added her cello and electronics to the mix. Their answer to the opening question, though, is more existential than musical, as they override simple aesthetic concerns with a keen compositional sense that steers them toward a unique soundworld.

What they do is pit Borges’s battery of tattered, rough-edged electronics against Kennedy’s terse cello lines, then blur the boundary between them. Or perhaps “infect” is a better description, as the two are continually overlapping, one bleeding into the other, carrying some germ with it to the next cell of activity, transmuting the mood of each piece in subtle, patient movements.

But how do they express this lack -- this absence, the loneliness of daily isolation? How do you get from abstract electronic textures built from field recordings, oscillators, pedals, tape loops, mixers and processed acoustic strings to capturing such an emptied-out mood? These two side-long piece are certainly not minimal, as the sound-field is nearly always filled with big, bold gestures, either in the form of Kennedy’s long, heavy bowing or Borges’s creaking trails of feedback, loops and shapely, saturated synth noise.

The two start out with clear roles, then play off our expectations of them. Borges might begin with some cold-edged atmosphere of mechanical clanking, and you long to hear the cello enter: it is warmth, it is connected with a higher idea of ourselves. The second half of “Under a Veil of Living Light” stretches on, the skittering electronics and swathes of noise painting a desolate landscape. When the cello does return, it is fragile, a high-register shell of itself. Borges’s backdrop is insistent (chirping crickets, feral sniggers, shufflinghuman motion) and becomes nothing less than an encroaching night. But what provides safety and what is darkness isn’t clear at all anymore.

But the single most poignant moment, when the two transcend easy musical roles, comes on “Drift Gently Down the Frigid Tides of Sleep.” Recorded live in San Francisco as part of the 23five concert series Activating the Medium, the piece shows not only that Kennedy and Borges have a honed compositional aesthetic but a developed approach to performance. More than just adding dramatics to their show, they integrate performance into the fabric of their composition. About midway through the piece, Kennedy strips down to a slip and sits down in a metal tub of ice-cold water. She proceeds to pour the water over herself, with a microphone nearby to capture her shivering breath. The image is creepy, but the sound is far more cutting. The water hitting the thin metal echoes crisp and clean, while Kennedy’s breath grows more urgent and tense.

The moment is simple but makes you realize what lies at the heart of their music, and answers our opening question. What is the most painful lack you can think of? The lack of warmth, of being cold, and here Borges and Kennedy have manifested it in graphic, almost tactile sonic detail. So it’s not the electronics that are cold, it’s the human presence, the simple sound of someone trying to catch their breath after having it frozen out of them. Kithless is not so much music as it is a slow-motion shadowplay of emotions.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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