Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ides of March

LADIES AN GENNLEMEN, TONIGHT YUH'LL WITNESS A BOUT FOR DA AGES. IN DIS CAWNA, SOMEWHERE OVER A RAINBOW, TERRY RILEY! AN IN DIS CAWNA, DA WELSH KID, JOHN CALE! NOW BOYS, LET'S HAVE A CLEAN ONE - FIGHT!

OK, OK, as duels go, this one isn't really that aggressive. Cale and Riley face off on piano, true; but Cale's bit serves as the rhythm part, keeping time more reliably than the drums, which lay in the pocket behind the beat and hover at the edges of the stereo picture; Riley's bit (on I believe prepared piano, as there's some weird sitar-like noises that accompany his strikes) provides the "lead" voice, arpeggiations bubbling away as usual. It's the same approach as the two other long-form pieces on Church of Anthrax take, an approach that Riley seems largely responsible for - extreme repetition with a bit of subtle variation. Which isn't to say they sound the same at all; they just use the same techniques.

The first few (or twenty) listens, after the beautiful and expansive intro (which lasts all of seven seconds), it sounds more or less the same all eleven minutes through. Eventually, though, especially with repeated listens to the track, you start to discern a structure:

  • Riley drops out momentarily at two minutes before coming back with a more considered and assured lead part
  • he returns to the bubbling and it starts to slow down around the three minute mark
  • speeds up considerably a minute later
  • softens and recapitulates the beginning after seven minutes as Cale takes his part slightly out of key
  • slows down and flexes its muscles just after nine minutes in the coda.
The coda practically has more development than the rest of the piece put together, with Riley adding in a blues/gospel-ish call and response section before dropping out, only to voice a final piece of "advice" as Cale is bringing the piece to a close.

The drums (which seem to start in a syncopated parody of a march, perhaps giving the piece a punny title? or maybe it was just recorded today) sound interesting at first, but over time irritate and distract from the interesting piano dialogue more than they contribute anything. I'd like the piece much more without, I think. So it goes.

[Believe it or not, Church of Anthrax is getting an international rerelease - including its North American CD debut - in a month or so, so you'll finally be able to hear this *ahem* gem. It's not my first preference for a rerelease (in fact, it's one of my last), but those with a high tolerance for repetition and irritating noises are advised to check it out. I can't be the only one... right?]

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