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Recording:
  Telegraphs in Negative / Mouths Trapped in Static  
 
Artist:
  Set Fire to Flames  
 
Label:
  Alien8  
 
Release Date:
  8.April.2003  
 
Reviewed by:
  Lawton  
         
 
Rating:
   
         
 
Review:
 

Let me say something from the outset: Set Fire To Flames are out there. Lauded as a side-project of the legendary Godspeed You Black Emperor (and listening to this as a fan of the latter), I expected something along the same lines.

Forget it.

Not so much a band and more a collective of musical sculptors, the end result of Set Fire to Flames' five days of what the press release called "nosleepintoxicationconfinement" is a double album which transfixes the listener with its sheer weirdness. Their label, Alien8 Recordings, have happened upon one of those rare bands which is almost impossible to define musically, unafraid to experiment, and, most importantly, bursting with promise. In these days of expendi-pop, formulaic "punk" bands, RíníB (surely the biggest musical misnomer ever) clones, and a rap scene which is rapidly becoming a grotesque parody of itself, the music industry needs Set Fire To Flames to inject some genuine creativity back into the world.

The guitar-led album opener, Deja, Comme Des Trous De Vent, Comme Reproduit, led me briefly to believe that I was about to sit through a variant on the GYBE theme. How pleased I was, then, with the divergence in both style and content of the following tracks: bowed strings reminiscent of David Sylvianís work with Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as a curious collection of electronic clicks and rustling sounds which belong inside the sleep pod of some alien creature. When Sorrow Shoots Her Darts, with its guitar/string/percussion arrangement bringing it the closest to anything youíve heard before, is achingly beautiful and puts me in mind of Starless And Bible Black-era King Crimson.

A word of warning - donít listen to this album in the dark, especially not the track In Prelight Isolate. This concoction of almost-but-not-quite inharmonious, tension-building strings culminates in a unifying bass chord that literally brought me out in goose-flesh. Iíve had that sensation with music before, but it has usually been the first rush of a song and not the 10+ minutes of this cut. If the Banshees of Irish legend were to form a band, this is what it would sound like.

More sonic sculptures and landscapes skitter into view and then fade in the mindís eye. Tehran In Seizure/Telegraphs In Negative has the listener on some deserted Nevada highway at midnight with the wind thrumming through overhead telegraph wires. Your Guts Are Mine offers a brief glimpse at normality via a cleverly constructed, stripped down guitar excursion. Fukt Perkusiv/ Something About Bad Drugs, Schizophrenics And Grain SilosÖ again lurches into Sylvian/Fripp land, whilst never actually setting up camp there. Sleep Maps is another highlight for me. With echoes of early 70s jazz improv/experimentation in the same vein as Soft Machine, the piano, strings and guitar all gently compete for the listenerís attention without being overwhelming.

Further along this albumís journey, there is a pit stop into Miles Davisí Bitches Brew roadside diner with Something About Eva Mattes In The Halo Of Exploding Street Lamps and Buzz Of Barn Flies Like Faulty Electronics. Then the band enters into what is, for me, the first of the two stand-out tracks of the album. And The Birds Are About To Bust Their Guts With Singing doesnít exactly endear itself to the listener through its title, but the song is a masterful, soulful, painfully melancholy mix of percussion, strings, andwind instruments that knits together beautifully. For my money, it should have been segued into the proceeding cut, Rites At Spring Reverb, as the string theme is continued there.

The final track is the second stand-out cut for two distinct reasons. First, it has one of the most compelling, haunting, and instantly appealing titles Iíve ever seen: This Thing Between Us Is A Rickety Bridge Of Impossible Crossing/Bonfires For Nobody. How can one dislike a piece of music with a title like that? Second, sonically, it is a requiem for the modern world. When weíve used all of the fossil fuels and the comet is about to hit, Iíll be playing this track with the last small charge of electricity left available to me.

Thoroughly recommended, Telegraphs In Negative/Moths Trapped In Static is one of those superb, timeless, destined-to-become-a-classic albums which fits perfectly into the hackneyed bracket of "come back to it time and again and find something new each time." In truth, itís so dark, foreboding, downright scary and outside of the mainstream that some may find it unapproachable. Me? Iím off to see if I can get across that rickety bridgeÖ

 
         
 
Related Links:
 

Yanqui U.X.O., the latest offering by Godspeed You Black Emporer
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, a previous album by GYBE.
He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms, by A Silver Mt. Zion, which is another GYBE side-project.

 
         

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