Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Love via Paper Planes review from The Silent Ballet

Score: 7/10

Love Via Paper Planes is the debut LP from Australia’s The Ghost of 29 Megacycles, a trio of guitar, organ, and vocals, all deeply treated with reverb and other effects. The music is essentially minimal in many regards, though the sustained organ and guitar overtones interact in ways that create a very dense sound. Building tension with repetition, the songs unfold very slowly, immersing the listener in the interactions of the pulsing sine waves fusing the tones of all three elements together. The dynamism of the tracks comes from the tension between the guitar and organ, while the vocals, as ethereal and ghostly as they may be, ground the tracks and provide a driving force compositionally. There’s a very "Kranky" feeling to this record, with its slow, immersive soundscapes, which at times recalls Sigur Rós at its most ambient. But the waves of organ and guitar, pleasing though they are, would be much less satisfying without the addition of the vocals. They make up for less sophisticated or complex instrumentation, instead giving the whole affair a dreamy, hopeful character not usually associated with drone-based music but without the tones typically associated with ambient music. Ultimately the vocals keep the music from sounding too aimless or meandering too far afield.

At over fifteen minutes in length, the opening track, “The Cold Light of Silence,” makes up half the length of the release. Each subsequent track gets shorter, achieving the effect of not distracting from the magnitude of the first piece, but also simultaneously causing the second half of the record passes very quickly. I’m sure other records use a similar device, though I cannot think of any off the top of my head, and so it seems worth mentioning that it is a clever device for ordering a record. In the opening song, the organ and guitar swell and repeat for over four minutes, seemingly slowly gaining speed until the cooing whispery female vocals appear. The other two instruments continue on as before, however; their effects’ amplified overtones interact in interesting ways, as chords change subtly, gradually increasing the intense cloud of sound. The track doesn’t crescendo, but rather ebbs and flows, enveloping the listener and carrying him or her along, drifting through as Karen de San Miguel’s vocals begin to overlap themselves. The final few minutes act as a sort of coda, showcasing the guitar’s shimmering waves of sound.

The second track, “Passing, Daydreams,” sounds distinct from the first, even though the tones are essentially the same. It is a credit to the trio that it has the ability to make such minimal components sound unique even at first listen. More attention is given to the guitar, and the organ takes a background role while the higher-pitch parts take the position of the vocals from the prior track. “We Are the New Romantics” actually sounds a bit like the chord progression from Sigur Rós’ “Heysatan” slowed down and washed out. The opening of the eponymous track sounds reminiscent of the chords from the opener of Saxon Shore’s excellent record from last year. These two tracks, each a little over six minutes, make use of a similar format, repeating the same chord progression while the tones of the two instruments gradually shift, allowing for pleasing interactions. These mostly instrumental songs, with the deep organ drones and tremolo guitar, are lovely and drift along just long enough to avoid becoming boring.

The very end of “Love Via Paper Planes” introduces a slow vocal melody, seemingly composed of both male and female vocals, that carry the tune out into the last two shorter pieces, each at about two and a half minutes. “Dusted” revolves around an alternating organ riff, guitar noise, and those same beautiful female vocals. Despite being so short, the track is surprisingly dynamic, suggesting to this reviewer that the group might benefit from writing concise songs in the future, or at least continuing to use them to balance out the sprawling epic tracks. The closing track, “Tue Love Will Find You In the End,” is the only track that features the male vocals upfront, and it sounds reminiscent of Bill Callaghan of Smog. It's an interesting choice to end the debut, as it almost stands out too much, but it is appropriate in its short, hopeful punctuation.

The group takes its name from a 1985 book by John G. Fuller. Fuller was well-known for his writings on the supernatural, and The Ghost of 29 Megacycles was his explorations of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), which claims to be the recording of spirits found in various recording processes. For instance, if one attunes one’s recording equipment properly, the sound of radio static or faint electronic signals in a room will reveal, allegedly, the voices of the dead. There is a long history of research into the paranormal, including such prominent figures as Thomas Edison and William James, beginning in the early days of photography and accelerated by the introduction of communication technologies such as the telephone and the radio. At the time, it seemed plausible that if we can communicate wirelessly through signals we cannot naturally perceive, than perhaps we can reach out to the other side of death as well. These experiments are still carried on today, by artists and researchers such as Michael Esposito, but the recordings of The Ghost of 29 Megacycles sounds little like these recordings. The imagery does help to create an aesthetic that is appropriate to the band's moody, slow-paced ethereal music. In the end, Love Via Paper Planes is an impressive debut, another credit to the Sound & Fury roster. Calming and immersive without overreaching or adding unnecessary embellishments; I’ll certainly look forward to hearing how the band will evolve.

-Joseph Sannicandro