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Double Leopards - Halve Maen

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Artist: Double Leopards

Album: Halve Maen

Label: Eclipse

Review date: Aug. 14, 2003

When Distant Stars Gossip

Taken at face value, this double-LP is a fairly mysterious item. The beautiful gatefold sleeve features two collage-style artworks on the outside, and a hypnotically geometric collection of images on the inside. Other than the band name and spine information, there's no other data available from the cover. The insert doesn't provide much else: titles and basic recording information. Other than knowing that this is DL's third album, I have only the artwork and the music to go on. Which is, thankfully, more than enough.

The front cover's skeletal design – a murky, vaguely celestial background, with green ferns reaching upwards – parallels the music of Side A nicely, echoing both the droning menace and the earthy bells and moans. The title of the side's last piece, "Druid Spectre," should be the title of the artwork. The track's clunking percussive noises and doom-laden piano strikes aren't quite as mind-melting as "The Fatal Affront", however, with its bells and dying-sun tonalities.

"A Hemisphere in Your Hair” makes up Side B’s entirety, a glacial evolution of synth murmurs, distant delayed-stretched sounds, and rumbles. When I close my eyes, it brings to mind what you'd hear while standing on an asteroid if your ears could penetrate vacuum to pick up the gossip shared by stars. If planetariums played this, I might drop acid again. Maybe.

"Viking Blood" and "The Forest Outlaws" comprise side C. The former is very reminiscent of Total and, to some extent, Sunroof, and I find its crystalline sounds and bubbling electronics compelling. It keeps threatening to cross the line from intense into harsh, but it wisely decides against it. "The Forest Outlaws" doesn't concentrate on the naturalistic angle that might be expected from the title. Instead it opens with clearly electronic floating tones and bubbling synthesizers. Later on, after a temporary intensity, the piece backs off and returns to a quiet murmuring before every-so-slow fade-out.

Thus we come to the final side, occupied by the two-part suite "The Secret Correspondence". The initial sounds resemble heavily-reverbed vocals, though it’s impossible to say with any certainty. Distant, quiet cymbal splashes and low-end droning make way for thicker vocal-like moans and waves of sound. A moment of silence marks the transition from Pt. 1 to 2, which again introduces layers of what sound like the human voice, floating above a thick bed of bassy murk. Frankly, this is the constantly-evolving, yet thoroughly mellow, kind of drone that I always expected from Stars of the Lid and never quite got. At times it reminds me of the darkest, best Current 93 drone (Dawn, for example) – not entirely friendly, not afraid of intensity or inducing fear.

Putting the lie to the old view that "ambient" equals boring, the four expansive sides of this album provide more than enough depth for repeated listening. Even more laudable, this can be listened to in a quiet, dark environment for maximum visualization or in competition with other activities without fading into the background. If you're looking for this season's ideal mental voyage soundtrack, you've found it.

By Mason Jones

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