May Roosevelt: Haunted
May Roosevelt

Composer and thereminist May Roosevelt's self-released Haunted definitely stands out from the crowd and in all the right ways. This ultra-dramatic suite of eight pieces (the album title taking its inspiration from French philosopher Jacques Derrida's “hauntology” concept) impresses for its high-wire deployment of theremin and traditional Greek dance rhythms, not to mention how it integrates such distinctive materials into nightmarish, multi-layered scene paintings constructed from electronic beats, vocals, and synthesizers.

“The Unicorn Died” begins the album on a suitably haunted note when Zeibekiko dance rhythms merge with the theremin's warble and moan. That opening flourish sets the stage in another key sense as each of the subsequent pieces likewise works a traditional Greek dance form into its presentation; “Chasm,” for instance, receives no small amount of thrust from its Tasamiko rhythms (Roosevelt helpfully identifies each of the eight dance types by including the detail along with each song title). The effect isn't always as exotic as those tracks indicate, however. Though “Young Night Thought,” for example, is predicated upon Zonaradiko rhythms, the track itself could pass for a variation—an extremely warped variation, perhaps—of techno, particularly when its booming bass drum thunders throughout the song. She also demonstrates precisely how versatile the theremin can be when placed in the right hands, as the instrument evokes the supplicating cries of the dead during “Vow,” resembles a wailing electric guitar in “Young Night Thought,” and during “Mass Extermination” exchanges its familiar warble for something closer to vibrato-laden strings.

Supernatural by design, much of the album conjures a sense of darkness and mystery. The title repeats hypnotically during the dirge-like “Dark the Night” as the vocal delivery alternates between an entranced monotone and child's macabre nursery rhyme (“Blood drops as the butcher draws a line / Blood drops as the killer draws a line”), the song playing out like some possessed folk chant from hell. At thirty-seven minutes, the album's over quickly yet nevertheless leaves a strong and lasting impression. How could it not do so when the album's songs use traditional Greek dance forms and theremin sounds as focal points, and weave such elements into arresting compositions of generally haunted character? With its cover design enhanced by varnish, metallic ink, and embossing, the packaging is first-class too, and one comes away from the project thoroughly captivated by Roosevelt's bold and unique statement.

May 2011