A captivating painting of intensity, simplicity and ambiguity makes for a perfect cover to this LP, the work of a Lebanese musician whom ACL has indirectly covered before. Charbel Haber is part of Johnny Kafta Anti-Vegetarian Orchestra, an improv punk group whose self-titled album our own David enjoyed last year – but he is also co-founder of a long-standing post-rock band in Lebanon and collaborates in the arenas of film, theatre and video art. This solo release offers few palpable links with any of those genres and yet seems to invoke the spirits of them all, leading us deeper and deeper into oceanic soundscapes both eerie and isolating.
Of Palm Trees and Decomposition comprises three lengthy tracks and another under five minutes, all formed entirely of guitars fed through modular synths. We are greeted with what sounds like an end – “Last Evenings on Earth” seems to convey the submergence of land beneath an unsettled, thick wash of drones. Higher tones are then projected with greater clarity, and the two entwine but never settle; like a phone call with weak signal or a light bulb to a faulty connection, they ebb and flow, flickering all the while. Our human-made infrastructure seems to be heading to a watery grave.
Given the track name it follows, the wonderful title “We Haven’t Seen Night For Days” signifies being trapped somewhere within the demarcation of day and night. We seem at the mercy of the water’s current, and where we are deposited is as amorphous as when we are. A clean melody starts the second track, playing out through a heavily processed guitar. It’s slow and flirts with hope, but becomes enshrouded by the increasing sustain of its notes, which start to overlap to create discordant frequencies. Meanwhile, a lower tone has encroached, and the melody in time moves to a lower octave. It eventually collapses under the weight of an organ-like drone. What was once clean is now muddied; once sanguine now sullied.
Third track “22 21” is the LP’s lengthiest, surpassing 12 minutes, and develops with glacial sedateness. A mournful, isolated melody drifts along as though in deep waters. As our eyes acclimatise to the gloom, we discern shapes and textures. A low throbbing; wailing feedback; alien sounds that swell and clip, borne of things that lurk further in the darkness. We seem to be drifting closer to them, but, bereft of landscape and the weight of the surface, cannot discern or control our trajectory. After so much aural esoterica, the comparatively clean guitar chord that rings out to commence “And The Morning After” sounds like exquisite reward. Have the floods drained away? Are we reborn? The chord repeats and then forms a loop, as though the sense of renewal that it promises has been ensnared lest it slip through our fingers.
Though its titles seem to scribe a fragmented narrative, Of Palm Trees and Decomposition offers a story without explicit substance – one with mere hints to a greater profundity. This neatly parallels its splendidly sequenced tracks – they lack intros, codas and even rhythms, but evoke an atmosphere both captivating and, ultimately, purifying. (Chris Redfearn)