Rustle VV – various releases part 2

27/06/2012

Bernard Herman, Mongrel Scribbler

Madder Gala, Cartomancy and Chiromancy

released on Rustle VV

This is the second of two reviews (see first review) covering the work of the Brooklyn based cassette label Rustle VV. Here I’ll look at Bernard Herman’s Mongrel Scribbler and Cartomancy and Chiromancy by Madder Gala.

Both cassettes have the same simple black and white artwork, slightly disturbing images, very distinctive. Mongrel Scribbler has the catalogue number scratched on the side of the cassette. Cartomancy and Chiromancy has only one side of music. These quirks and oddities are part and parcel of the Rustle VV artistic experience. The more essential part, the music, manages to live up to expectation.

Mongrel Scribbler’s eight tracks share a specific bundle of common features. All are characterised by the twisted, unhinged, slightly psychotic high tenor voice of the artist, presumable Bernard Herman. At various times, this voice and its various ravings brings to mind a range of possible influences: the tone and imagery of Jim Morrison’s poetic efforts (Bitten by a Snake, From Home to Home), sung in a weedy anguished NY voice; some of Beefheart’s more personal peregrinations; nuances of Robert Plant before a Zeppelin-esque explosion (Short Haired Woman); various new romantic affectations, from Bowie to Gary Numan via David Byrne (Deliverance, Outside Gates of Heaven). All of which seem to emanate from a performance in the avant-garde tradition (yes, there is one) brought together in Warhol’s sitting room.

Some of the most successful passages are held together thematically by alluding, cleverly or sensibly, to religious imagery drawing on the darker morality of the Old Testament, inviting comparisons with Blues and Gospel declamatory styles, especially in Outside Gates of Heaven in which the principal voice is layered with a deeper voice to set up something resembling a call and response liturgy.

In contrast to these songwriting strengths we have the simplicity and effectiveness of the musical accompaniment. Simple synth pads and twinkly embellishments, light effects, some sparse percussion, the occasional double tracked vocal line, used sparingly and with focus and direction – all these manifest an easy command of a few musical resources put to good use. In fact it’s the sharp focus of this album that left the strongest impression.

Madder Gala’s, Cartomancy and Chiromancy is (I think) one long piece because it begins and ends with similar material, evidence of some sort of structured composition. This work is characterised by the use of loops and short samples, from 4 note piano motifs to cello phrases, tinkly beats, looped voices, synthy or field recording instrumental sound. The vocal passages might come from an old 78 or from a random radio broadcast. A careful use of enveloping helps the different elements emerge and recede, changes of mood and direction suggest a vast dreamscape with intriguing connotations.

Some vocals and a rather obviously cheesy bass riff breaks the spell somewhat. Too much of anything can pin down a work like this and up until now it had avoided anything too concrete. This in itself is interesting – how and why does this happen and at what points does a listener switch off because of a change of direction or mood?

As with the previous work released on this label, my only question, which doesn’t apply to the Madder Gala offering, is why artists still seem to be limiting themselves to the three minute (or so) song format. It’s as if we’ve forgotten an enormous and rich cultural heritage, from both European and North American traditions, of song and balladry which creates songs to be as long as they need to be. Unless the three minutes (or so) just happens coincidentally to be the ideal length.

Nonetheless, both albums would be very good models for young aspirants with some measure of originality seeking a way out of indie-pop mediocrity.

 

 

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