Sanso-Xtro: Sentimentalist
Type Records

Born in Adelaide and now residing in London, Melissa Agate (aka Sanso-Xtro) conjures spectacularly tactile and unusual sound worlds on her Sentimentalist debut by merging acoustic instrumentation, experimental electronic treatments, and subtle digital manipulations. Though she's played guitar and drums in a number of bands and regards herself primarily as a drummer, the 32-minute mini-album is hardly drum-centered, though there is a pronounced percussive dimension. Agate's eleven exotic settings, created from instruments like guitar, ukulele, kalimba, drums, analogue and synths, share an intimate and home-made feel, with most songs weighing in at less than three minutes.

“The Last Leaf” opens Sentimentalist auspiciously with the sound of awakening Ovalesque electronics but then quickly enters its own universe of sombre themes, looping bell clangs, and lumbering percussion splashes. With its sparkling dulcimer-like filigrees and clopping percussion rhythms, “Zlumber...Talkinmysleep” then adds an Eastern European feel to the album. Perhaps the most striking piece is the title track where Agate conjures a remarkable and fully-formed sound world in a mere two minutes; though the piece opens restrainedly with ponderous folk guitar stylings, its quietude is dispelled abruptly by the bright blaze of a burrowing synth line and thrumming pulses. Equally evocative moments arise in “Minus_ecki,” an Oriental-styled soundscape of panning knocks and electronic glimmerings, and in “And Then Return to Zero” where glissandi effects surround lulling kalimba and vibes interweaves.

Sentimentalist includes its share of meditative episodes, like “Plant Skeletons,” a dreamy oasis of organ murmurings and electronics, and “Frangipani Gardens,” a gentle setting of quiet tinklings that literally evokes its title. One of Sanso-Xtro's strengths is her fastidious attention to detail, with most tracks teeming with dense exotica (e.g., the scratchy noises and glistenings that form the fleeting tactile soundscape “Spark”). Make no mistake; Sentimentalist is neither a techno nor ambient outing; it's a collection of meditative vignettes delicately assembled from a vivid bank of acoustic and electronic sounds, with Colleen perhaps the closest kindred spirit to Agate in terms of general sound and approach. Sans-Xtro's sound is uniquely her own, however, a fact clearly borne out by the ukulele plucks and detuned guitar scrapes that emerge in bold outings like “Blue Signal.”

May 2005