Pelt: Effigy
MIE Records

Though the late Jack Rose is obviously no longer with them, Mike Gangloff, Mikel Dimmick, and Patrick Best still make a joyful noise on Effigy, the first album Pelt's recorded since 2007. The group has been called (as noted in a recent in-depth profile in The Wire) the “hillbilly Theatre of Eternal Music”—not a bad starting point for contemplating Pelt's essence. The group recorded the album's seventy-two minutes in, so we're told, an “old yoga studio in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin and a decommissioned synagogue called the Gates of Heaven in nearby Madison.” The sequencing of the material is one of the album's strong points, with its seven pieces naturally split across the four vinyl sides, two tracks apiece on one, two, and four, and side three wholly given over to the long-form “Ashes of a Photograph.”

Theirs is a unique sound indeed, a head-turning supernova of country, folk, minimal drone, and Eastern musics. It would be hard to imagine any other outfit initiating a drone with the twang of a Jew's harp as occurs during “Ashes of a Photograph,” a shimmering colossus that most clearly presents Pelt as some newfangled version of LaMonte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music, especially when the piece includes wordless vocal drones.

Each track captures a slightly different aspect of the group's sound. “Of Jack's Darbari” bolts from the gate in a hellacious roar, all insistent piano pulses and sawing violins, the musicians ploughing into the material like farm workers sweating under a blazing summer's sun. Here and elsewhere, the strings appear as a seething, almost crazed swarm. “Wings of Dirt” blends Indian and hillbilly musics like it's the most natural thing in the world, with tabla-like hand percussion giving the music its Eastern quality and the violins and banjo the backcountry feel. A restrained drone meditation of shimmering character, “Spikes & Ties” sees Pelt laying down its strings and channeling dead spirits from amplified scrapes and rubbings of metal objects, while the fittingly titled “Last Toast Before Capsizing,” a cyclone of freewheeling piano runs and clattering percussion, is as topsy-turvy and turbulent as one would expect.

In the album's more ferocious moments, the violin's raw attack calls to mind the string playing of Tony Conrad and John Cale as documented on Inside The Dream Syndicate Volume I: Day Of Niagara (1965), for example. There's a quieter side to Pelt, too, however, and it's most audibly captured on the fourth side. Pelt first strips its sound down to its minimal essence for the gamelan-styled meditation “From the Lakebed,” a bells-heavy affair that also catches one's ear for the crawl to which its tempo eventually slows, before closing Effigy with “The Doctor's Nightcap,” one final example of Pelt's dream-laden rusticism.

November 2012