Avia Gardner: More Than Tongue Can Tell

Désormais: Dead Letters To Lost Friends

Mitchell Akiyama weighs in with two radically different but equally accomplished releases on his intr_version imprint, the first, More Than Tongue Can Tell, a collaborative venture with vocalist Jenna Robertson under the Avia Gardner name and the second, Dead Letters To Lost Friends, his Désormais project with Tony Boggs (aka Joshua Treble). The former is a stunning mini-album of electronic songs while the latter presents inspired guitar-based instrumentals in a style that recalls bands like Do Make Say Think.

On their Avia Gardner debut, Robertson and Akiyama craft disarmingly lovely electrified madrigals and ballads. Naturally, Robertson's hushed vocals are the primary focal point but they're merely one key part of an ethereal sonic fabric. Shifting from aggressive, even explosive episodes to peaceful passages, the grandiose title song layers her delicate voice over a rich bed of rickety pianos, echo-laden guitars, and rippling electronic noise. The remaining material impresses too: the vinegary saw of Ellie Nimeroski's violin dominates “Dread and Dreaming” until Robertson's whisper emerges alongside the stately pluck of a ukulele-like instrument, while the soft burr of Vitamins For You's saxophone adds warmth to the lush ballad “If You Lose the Key, Throw Away the House.” sombre string motifs merge with guitar fuzz and softly seething static in Boggs' “Urban Gravity” remix to bring this hallucinatory mini-album of refracted Victorian lullabies to a close.

Despite their contrasting styles, there are overlaps between the recordings: like the Avia Gardner disc, Désormais' album updates rough-edged acoustic sounds using digital technologies; Robertson and Vitamins For You re-appear, with her whisper added to “Can I Read You This?” and his sax a key component of “This Ship Sinks Sideways.” But beyond such connections, the albums explore markedly different territory. Désormais courts a rough, at times ragged style with the songs' melodies and themes defined hazily at best. The music veers between a conventional guitar-based style (“Walk to the Hotel Alone” and “One or Many Wolves”) and a boldly experimental one. The album also receives a strong boost from drummer Eric Craven (Hanged Up) whose playing sparks the creaky fiddles and grungy guitars of “Hell'n Ohio.” Digital processing moves to the forefront on “Salt Eyes Fuck Yeh” with acoustic sounds wrapped in a blurry blanket of phasing effects while shuddering streams of fuzzy distortion in pieces like “Drowning in Place” invite comparisons to Fennesz and Tim Hecker.

More Than Tongue Can Tell and Dead Letters To Lost Friends not only sound distinctive, but boast fabulous packaging design too, thanks to Marian Bantjes (Avia Gardner) and Dessa Harhay (Désormais).

November 2005