You can’t judge a book by the cover, unless what you’re looking for is the cover. This cover calls attention to itself, and should feature strongly in any year-end art feature. Thankfully, this is a vinyl release, all the better to showcase the art ~ and the music is just as intriguing.
Judging by the press release, this Oregon duo prefers to maintain an aura of mystery, riffing alliteratively from “topiary” to “topic” and “solar to sonar sonata” and musing, “if we can sculpt sound, then we can type on clouds”. “The Axis of Tao” does indeed contain the sound of typing, although the cloud is blissfully silent, refusing to protest as the birds fly around, chirping protests and praises. Organic sounds pop with aplomb: gurgles and bubbles, whistles and clanks. This is field recording Play-Doh: sounds used as source material and softly manipulated into pleasing objects. Is that a tea kettle, or is it the wind? Perhaps, in the spirit of Philip and Myste French, it may be the sound of the wind as poured through a tea kettle into the open mouth of an asthmatic lamb.
In the same manner as a viewer may peruse the picture – flower, aorta, pea pod, skull – listeners may peruse the music, wondering what is music as well as what music is. Rain is rain, but is rattle rattle? No guidebook exists for this imaginative journey. Throughout the album, Nite Lite authentically reflects both the art and the album’s title, which means to prick or insert. By inserting sound into field recording, whether wind chime or tribal drum, the duo adds to nature’s pre-existing inflections. But as the root of Ursa Major’s tail, Megrez is also a crucial star, a lynch point without which the man-made association of constellation and bear might never have taken place. In similar fashion, album spinners see these sounds as they hear them, even though their visual parallel might not exist.
By “Springingtime”, the Frenches are still typing on clouds, albeit with muddied intention. By this point, the spelling of words has become secondary to the striking of keys. “Participation Mystique” may be a play on words, a tribute to an artist’s name, or both, but it no longer matters. The cover drew us in, and now we can’t escape. We’re lost in a jungle of our own ink. (Richard Allen)
Release date: December 17