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Alvarius B / Cerberus Shoal - The Vim and Vigour of Alvarius B and Cerberus Shoal

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Artist: Alvarius B / Cerberus Shoal

Album: The Vim and Vigour of Alvarius B and Cerberus Shoal

Label: North East Indie

Review date: Sep. 2, 2003

Alan Bishop Presents


A work of art is never finished: rather, its meaning is recreated with each new interpretation or listen. Rather than struggle against this truism with inherently flawed attempts at authorial control, Cerberus Shoal have been unafraid to embrace the sometimes more interesting chaos of reinterpretation. By constantly reinventing their own work, allowing songs to become ever-expanding pieces of poetry and performance art, they elude easy definition. The series of three collaborative EPs that Cerberus Shoal has released over the course of an extraordinarily productive year (one that has seen the release of not only this series, but also two full-length records) confirms their fondness for varying analysis as it is introduced to other artists and audiences. The Vim and Vigour of Alvarius B and Cerberus Shoal features songs from both Alvarius B and Cerberus Shoal, as well as arrangements of each other's work.

Alvarius B, better known as Alan Bishop and as a member of the Sun City Girls, opens the record with his arrangement of Cerberus Shoal's "Ding", and despite the borrowed material, it is easy to hear the connection to the Sun City Girls. Bishop walks a fine line between attraction and repulsion, drawing the listener in but never abandoning an undercurrent of menace. He is like a wild haired stranger offering a schoolgirl candy you know that the peppermint he offers you may be sweet, but under no circumstances should you hop in his pickup truck. His version of "Ding" is an unfinished seduction. Full of half hooks, his gravelly voice over guitar and violin hints a resolution he never achieves. In the two Alvarius B originals that follow, "Blood Baby" and "Viking Christmas", Bishop delves farther into the development of a character hinted at in the opener, a dark and creepy historian of destruction. He revels in the sort of lyrical incongruities like "new guests butchered by traditional hosts" that might be anticipated from one of the creators of Dante's Disneyland Inferno.

It's exciting to hear Cerberus Shoal's responses to these pieces on the second half of the record. "Blood Baby" becomes a dirge-like call and response with an organ backing that creates an atmosphere like that of a dark carnival. With "Viking Christmas", the focus is again on atmospherics, with the clinking glasses and laughter of a party almost overwhelming the song. In an eagerness to reinvent, the structure and coherence of both songs are almost lost, meandering on a few minutes too long. The EP ends with "The Real Ding, " a real pleasure, and one that Cerberus Shoal has been experimenting with for some time. All that reinvention takes shape here, and contrasting with the chaos of the preceding songs, "The Real Ding" feels cohesive and almost restrained. While earlier songs ran too long to sustain interest, even at over twice their length, "The Real Ding" never feels excessive both an organic outgrowth of the preceding songs and a leap forward in sophistication.

By Emily Wanderer

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