aMute: The Sea Horse Limbo

Avia Gardner: Mill Farm

Mitchell Akiyama and Jenna Robertson downplay the lush baroque qualities that so distinguished their Avia Gardner debut More Than Tongue Can Tell for a more skeletal and neo-primitive psychedelic folk sound on the full-length follow-up Mill Farm. Recorded in Groton, Massachusetts , the album's sound is more hermetic compared to the first but it's also looser. The jarring change in direction is evident immediately in the primitive Eastern rhythms, chanted vocals, droning guitars, and even twanging Jew's harps that dominate the opening song “Between Our Pages.” Intricate, occasionally electronically-altered arrangements of thumb piano, harmonium, acoustic guitar, mallet percussion, and Robertson's soft vocalizing dominate this intimate collection. The fairy-tale legend recounted in “Fearsome and Terrible” recalls More Than Tongue Can Tell but, other than that and the connecting bridge established by Robertson's singing , the two albums are radically different creatures. At times the skeletal approach pays off, with the opening half of “Please Write When You Can” all the lovelier for being nothing more than Robertson's singing accompanied by acoustic guitar. Though its sound is largely homogenous, the album's range is wide, extending from the disorienting army of fuzz-laden electric guitars and distorted vocals in “Winter's Fucking Over Yeah” to the dreamy coda “Thinking of You Sometimes Aloud.”

Brussels-based Jérôme Deuson (aka aMute) also follows up a strong debut (A Hundred Dry Trees) but, in this case, the new work (The Sea Horse Limbo) is never anything less than superb. Lending her lovely voice to the incandescent “Sea Horse,” Robertson re-appears here too, but her presence is only one of the album's many pleasures. The hazy guitar-electronics core of Deuson's aMute style inevitably invites comparison to Fennesz (an interlude like “Limbo” could be mistakenly attributed to him in a blindfold test) but Deuson individuates his sound by adding vocalists and instrumentalists throughout. “Why Do I Run Seasons So Fast” floats in on a beautiful wave of shimmering lattices before entering Fennesz territory in “The Floating Boat,” a sprawling mass of textures and clicks. A quieter mood reigns in “When Cyclic Brussels Gave Up, It Turned Me On,” a lulling meditation given an industrial edge through the incorporation of clanks and machine noises. Two epics in particular stand out: “Hit My Country,” a magnificent exercise in shoegaze soundscaping that showcases the mournful grandeur of J-F Bronée's singing violin before grandly rising to a dramatic conclusion of country twang and laptop blur, and “Oh! Le Zeppelin” which takes three minutes to gather steam but, once Stéphane Fedèle's drums kick in, ascends to a thunderous pitch of post-rock churn that would do Tortoise proud. The nine settings on aMute's The Sea Horse Limbo spread like liquid rivulets that separate and join, elusively reshaping themselves to the changing surface.

December 2006