VA: Your Victorian Breasts
The Gestalt credo “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” never applied better than in the case of Your Victorian Breasts, a double-album collection of twenty unreleased tracks by a diverse crew of artists. Listened to in isolation from one another, the album's songs are satisfying, to be sure, but it's the cumulative impression the release makes that's more powerful. That it's presented in a beautiful gatefold sleeve (in a one-time pressing of 650 hand-numbered copies) adds considerably to that impression. Compiled by Maxime Guitton as the sequel to Three:four Records' 2009 compilation Err on The Good Side, Your Victorian Breasts features everything from demos and video soundtracks to live takes and studio tracks.
In keeping with its name, A R P's “Phase IV” introduces the recording with a six-minute excerpt of synthesizer pulsations, after which Ignatz's “Do Not Wake Me” shows exactly how stylistically contrasting the collection can be when it follows the synth setting with a raw bit of folk-blues and an equally raw Dylan-esque vocal. A similarly raw quality characterizes Arlt's vocal folk song “Tu m'as encore crevé un cheval” but that's due in part to the fact that the featured version is a demo the trio recorded at home in Paris. William Tyler uses electric guitar to create the fond homage “A Portrait of Sarah,” which alternates between rapid countrified fingerpicking and softer lyrical passages, while Filipe Felizardo gets the album's best song title award for his solo guitar piece “Where the Oyster remains shut; and the Mole pisses at the sun, extinguishing its Light.”
The slightly more experimentally oriented side B opens with Robert Hampson's “Retour à la chaleur” unleashing seven guitar-fueled minutes of black metal blur and fuzz, after which Date Palms' opium-dazed demo “Dust Bowl Theme” (featuring contributions from violinist Marielle Jakobsens and keyboardist Gregg Kowalsky), Roger Tellier-Craig's synth-heavy soundtrack piece “Transit,” and Black To Comm's ambient-psychedelic soundscape “Nord” appear. Stirring meditations appear elsewhere on the recording, too, including Byron Westbrook's Corridors setting “Broken Ellipses” and Raajmahal's “My Boy is a Good Child, Sleep.” An album standout is Eric Chenaux's “Na Te Mislim,” an anonymous Serbian ballad that, in a sparse arrangement for voice, organ, and electric guitar, Chenaux brings to life with great feeling and tenderness. Memorable, too, are Hamilton Yarns' delicate, gamelan-influenced instrumental “What Comes” and Circuit des Yeux's (Haley Fohr) instrumental rendering of Daniel Johnston's “Despair Came Knocking.”
Do the songs add up to a cohesive whole? Not exactly, unless one regards diversity and contrast as the unifying theme; perhaps the presence of guitar in so many of the pieces could be seen as a connecting thread. But in the long run it doesn't matter much: the recording when experienced in its complete form proves to be satisfying no matter how much its parts fit together or not.