Echoes of the Whales: Echoes of the Whales
Disasters By Choice

Sparkle in Grey: A Quiet Place
Disasters By Choice

Though Echoes of the Whales is hardly a recognizable group name, its members, Andrea Mangia (aka Populous of Morr Music fame) and Pierpaolo Leo, are more so. They've combined for a curiously themed release of synthesizer and electric guitar settings that, for whatever reason, finds its inspiration in the massive creature of the sea; perhaps the duo thought that the idea of using the whale's unique cry would prove a fecund springboard for a home-made album's worth of tunes (it's conceivable that the plummeting synth comets in the opening “Nature Was the Ancient Mobilia” are designed to mimic the amplified cries of whales in search of mates). Regardless, the beatless, electrified folk results are engaging enough and the range of sounds varied, with Farfisa organs complementing the guitar playing of Stefano Pilia and Jukka Riverberi of Giardini Di Mirò, among others. Certainly the graceful electric guitar playing in “You Can't Eat Your Fuel but You Can Run on What You Eat” and “Seeds Are Forever” is lovely, and, in the album highlight “Arctic Sunrise,” a Fripp-like guitar melody sinuously swims to a lulling surface of bright guitar shudder and shimmer. “A Bugs Militia” offers a psychedelic folk meditation of organs, synthesizers, and acoustic guitars, and “Humphrey the Hippy Whale” presents an elegant guitar and glockenspiel lullaby drowned by blazing synth smears. In addition, Mangia and Leo's affinity for song titles like “The Little Biotech Orchestra Plays at Your Funeral Party” and “Humphrey the Hippy Whale” admirably keeps things from ever getting too heavy (“We Can Be Herons Just for One Day” seems to have little connection to the Bowie tune aside from a drone that slices into the song's middle). Having said that, “Earth Song” does end the album on a seemingly serious note with its meditative, church-like ambiance perhaps a prayer for whatever natural beauties we've not yet despoiled.

On its debut album A Quiet Place, Sparkle in Grey, which began in 2006 when founder Matteo Uggeri joined forces with Cristiano Lupo, Alberto Carozzi, and Franz Krostopovic, offers up six pieces ranging from long-form experimental excursions to sweet lullabies. The band's identity asserts itself halfway through the twelve-minute opener “Limpronta” when tremolo guitar and violin indulge in some appealing counterpoint. What follows suggests an instrumental post-rock hybrid of King Crimson (the Starless and Bible Black version that included David Cross) and Giardini Di Mirò. That A Quiet Place's material started out as improvisations is something clearly felt in the tracks' loose meander, which can in some moments feel a little too much like jamming. The band does manage to work a good amount of contrast into the six pieces: “Goose Game” intersperses spiky guitar rock with dub passages; “A Quiet Place” proves a showcase for Krostopovic's lovely violin playing (which possesses a slightly sour tone that makes it sound much more like a viola than violin); “Teacher Song” presents a melancholy interlude of tremolo guitar, glockenspiel, and violin; and “Pim in Delay” works a healthy dose of guitar rawness into its aggressive slow-burn. Sparkle in Grey updates its sound with electronic touches and occasional voice samples and field elements but, in essence, A Quiet Place argues that calling Sparkle in Grey an instrumental post-rock quartet isn't far off the mark.

June 2008