Champagne Diamond/The Brilliant Light: S/T

Now here's an arresting release. What at first glance appears to be a 7-inch vinyl set titled The Brilliant Light by an artist named Champagne Diamond turns out, in fact, to be a double-CD set by Nina Canell and Robin Watkins, with the duo operating under the moniker Champagne Diamond/The Brilliant Light (apparently the two have also worked under the names The New Heat/Obscured by Light and Luftkluster/Luftfluks). The next surprise? The sum-total of the two discs isn't two hours but a mere thirty-seven minutes, making each CD an EP. And the sleeve? Simply a nice large-format repository for the discs. The songs (six on disc one, three on two) may be grounded in traditional fare such as boy-girl vocals and guitars (acoustic and electric) but the duo augments the material with an oft-bizarre junkyard orchestra that includes handheld radio, BKC bicycle, mist machine, air-raid alarm, and Mr Riyaz Tabla Machine.

The first song, “Champagne Diamond,” instantly captivates with an entrancing vocal melody that first rises and then jaunts in a way that vaguely recalls Eno-circa-Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy in style and timbre—not a bad way to get things started, especially when the song slows to a lovely waltz at its end. “Scatter & Yearn” pairs, yes, a yearning vocal with acoustic guitar but the vocal's played backwards, an unexpected choice that lends the already-melancholy song an alien beauty (it turns out to be an Irish folk vocal lifted from a found quarter-inch tape). “Rot, Get Soft” serves up a rippling mass of campfire hums and fractured guitar smolder, while “Build & Leave” is what might happen had the duo handed over its rickety gear to barnyard animals and assembled the results into a two-minute collage. The more instrumental-oriented second disc opens with three minutes of cavernous pops and drips (“Morasko Circle”) before the material detours into two long-form tracks: “Red Earth,” a trippy folk-jazz jam for hand percussion, bells, acoustic guitar, saxophones, and assorted other noises; and “Moro the Black Dog” which backs Anthony Watkins' text reading with Alex McMahon's saxophone bark and flutter, among other things. In truth, disc one's the stronger of the two but the release holds up despite the variance. It's tempting to offer “psych-folk” as a description but it falls short at capturing the “strange magic” that runs throughout this unusual release.

May 2009