The Lickets: Eidolons
International Corporation

The Lickets: Song of The Clouds
International Corporation

Quintana Jacobsma: Revenge of Giant Butterflies
International Corporation

This concurrently timed trio of releases from the San Francisco-based International Corporation headquarters constitutes a magnificent treasure trove of music. Amazingly, two people only—Mitch Greer and Rachel Smith—are responsible for all of it, as the duo not only issue music under The Lickets name but the Quintana Jacobsma and Mary St John aliases too. This remarkable body of work features two very different recordings by The Lickets and a set of Quintana Jacobsma string settings.

Song of The Clouds and Eidolons are radically different works: while the latter presents a multitude of diverse short sketches, the former is a three-part live recording whose central epic is framed by two shorter pieces. After “Fire Child of Reason” establishes the entranced mood with a sparkling flutes-and-strings prelude, the title track plunges the listener into a state of reverie for forty-six transporting minutes. Subtitled An Exploration in the Dimension of Sound, the episodic piece works its potent magic using a slow-motion unfurl of flutes and acoustic guitars, with Greer and Smith weaving the instruments into a dense, time-suspending mass. A third of the way along, a cello adds a harder edge to the material when its searing, strangulated tone alters the track's character from wondrous meditation to plodding dirge. The moment passes quickly, however, and the mass, the flute leading the way, reinstates itself even more forcefully until the piece becomes a writhing swirl and finally magisterial coda. Though “Sacred Science” can't help but seem anticlimactic following that amazing journey, the track's peaceful, flute-kissed ambiance acts as a nice come-down to the phantasmagoric splendour preceding it. Song of The Clouds might very well be the most starry-eyed and kaleidoscopic release yet from The Lickets.

If anything, the double-disc Eidolons (the title taken from a Walt Whitman poem) is just as captivating though in a different way. Characterized as “sound sketches from scenes of everyday life,” the material originated as pieces produced as responses to images of a woman smoking, rocks, rolling dough, a lake, and so on. The strategy reaps strong dividends as it brings forth sides of the group not previously heard (the tumultuous percussive episode of rippling combustion that is “Bunch of Buildings,” the string-based howl of “Cut Fruit Oil Shaving,” and “Video,” which possesses the metronomic pulsation of a Steve Reich piece) while at the same time remaining faithful to The Lickets' signature sound. Some of the tracks are quintessential Lickets: “Flying Lake,” with its psychedelic-folk blend of sitar, percussion, flute, and vocals is certainly one, as are the mesmerized settings “Rainbow Fields,” “Radio and Guitar,” “Doctor Office,” and “The Way North.” The group extends its instrumental palette considerably in the release's thirty-four selections, with Greer and Smith adding percussion, harmonium, sitar, mini-moog, and vocals to the customary flute, cello, and acoustic guitars. Song titles often suggest their imagistic starting-points: “Whisking Flour in a Pan” exudes a kind of lulling peacefulness that calls to mind the movements in question, “Conservatory” has the character of a stately classical lilt, and “They Are Everywhere” provides a foretaste of Quintana Jacobsma's string-frenzied sound world. The flutes-only “Above Apartments” truly does feel like its melodies are dancing on air, while “On the Roof” likewise appears to have its head in the clouds. The bucolic lamentation “Cityscape,” on the other hand, more evokes a mysterious forest woodland than urban setting. As if all that isn't enough, disc one ends with a trippy meditation called “Forest Temple” whose incandescent swirl freezes time for eighteen minutes. Adding to the recording's appeal are hand-made illustrations that adorn the hand-made release's inner pages.

As is their custom, Greer and Smith let their imagination run wild in the concepts driving the Quintana Jacobsma and Revenge of Giant Butterflies projects. The story behind the music involves an 18th -century luthier named Quintana Jacobsma who, known for having helped a mutant strain of giant butterflies decimate a small village, left behind musical manuscripts that, unearthed during an estate sale, have now been made available in recorded form. Laid down over the last four years, the string-based album begins rather dauntingly with the raucous “Call of the Butterfly” whose dissonant, piercing attack suggests more a swarm of hornets than butterflies, even if Jacobsma's butterflies were of a particularly vicious type. The album's hardly a harrowing onslaught, however, as it largely brings the intensity level down a few notches thereafter. Like Eidolons, the album's nine song titles often function programmatically: “A Language like the Hum of Bees is Free of an Architecture of Joy or Despair” adopts a peaceful tone as it ruminates querulously; the frenetic bowing of “Insects Rising in The Sky” brings to mind the image of a swarm darting through the air; a searching quality pervades the glassily echoing dronescape “The City and Its Many Passageways”; and “In the Morning, See the Sun Through 1000 New Eyes” is as dazed and sunblinded as the title indicates. With its sound palette limited to strings only, Revenge of Giant Butterflies can't help but be the least sumptuous of the three recordings, though it nevertheless retains the explorative and expansive sensibility that permeates everything Greer and Smith create .

December 2010