Bird Show: Lightning Ghost

Town & Country's Ben Vida devoted much of the past year to his Bird Show project, with Lightning Ghost now extending the stylistically eclectic 'world music' explorations Vida initiated on Green Inferno. An intimate, homemade feel pervades his work—home more an African village in this case than a Chicago home studio. Through hypnotic repetition of percussive rhythms and vocal mantras, his material cultivates a ceremonial effect, as if tribe members had ingested mushrooms or other mind-altering substances before joining in communal song. Interestingly, Vida creates a mesmerized, even shamanistic, ambiance despite the pieces' relative brevity; 'mystical' material of this sort often runs on too long, with the artist equating sprawl with entrancement, yet the songs here are succinct, the album an economical forty-three minutes. Vocals play a larger part here than on Green Inferno, though they're presented as merely one more element within the overall fabric of sound. Percussion too is more prominent with Vida exploiting a full range of tinkling bells, triangles, and shakers.The slightly psychedelic opener “Field on Water” presents an incantatory array of handclaps, staccato guitar figures, bells, and chanting while synthesizers imbue “Pilz” with contemporary flavour. Deepening the mystical vibe are “Seeds,” both opiated chant and rambunctious drum circle, and “First Path Through,” a sonic portrait of the nocturnal jungle, with chirping noises and spooky shudders emerging from the dense undergrowth. The gentle shoegaze blur of “Greet the Morning” comes closest to conventional Western songwriting without losing its hallucinatory quality while the countrified drone “On the Beach” kicks up some galloping dust in an equally refreshing change of pace. Throughout, the mood is relaxed and meditative, with Vida borrowing the Art Ensemble of Chicago's 'ancient to the future' credo by merging timeless instrumentation with electronics. An unusual yet welcome addition to the sonic landscape.

March 2006