Monday, November 30, 2009

#31. Natural Snow Buildings - The Dance of the Moon and the Sun (Self-Released, 2006)

I live in northern British Columbia, where the winter lasts approximately from mid-October through to the end of March most years. I've lived here a full 21 years, moving here when I was three because my dad found a job up here, and I've pretty much had my fill of winter in that time. I love it sometimes, don'tget me wrong...sitting out on a hill with friends, hot chocolate spiked with rum or whiskey depending on our mood in thermal cups, taking turns heading down the snow covered hill on a flimsy little plastic saucer that seemed huge to us 15 years ago but now barely contains our frames, rushing back up for more hot chocolate, just enjoying the cameraderie and the scenery as the night goes on. We're all northern lifers so we're well prepared for this stuff, none of us are ever cold and if it gets too much to take we're close to someone's house. That's the sort of shit I love about winter, but the rest of it can pretty much fuck off and die. The icy sidewalks that make the walk to work so treacherous, the driveway that needs shoveling at least twice a week if not more, the temperatures that can get into the -30s for a week at a clouds over the good stuff when you've dealt with it for so long.

Why the rant about winter? Well,despite their being from France I can't help but imagine that natural Snow Buildings have experienced at least a few heavy northern winters. The Dance of the Moon and the Sun evokes every single facet of that time of year; the album is cold to the touch, alternately lurching with caution and reveling in expansive beauty and most of all utterly entrancing as it goes about it. It's 150 minutes over two CDs that never feels overlong or anything less than stellar throughout. The duo's work is frighteningly consistent for most of the releases I've heard - even this year's 5-cassette Daughters of Darkness feels like it goes by much faster than its 6 hour run time - but it seems that they're at their peak here, perfectly alternating between lo-fi electronic soundscapes and acoustic meditations without letting either side take too much of the focus. The songs - all 25 of them - are so uniformly excellent that it's hard to remember them by name so much as just recall the feeling of letting them course through you. OK, that's a lie since there's "Wisconsin" to consider, probably the one song that can convert anyone to a NSB follower by sheer force of its beauty, but even it's all about feeling as opposed to a single hook or identifiable moment. It's the kind of album that the only way to go about listening to it is to lie back with your eyes closed and let it transport you wherever it wants to go.

I associate it with the winter mostly, each song drags up some memory of a winter scene I was involved in so vividly that it's almost like they were creating the soundtrack to it after the fact. "Cut Joint Sinews" brings me back to the time we were driving my friend home down a winding back country road at 2 am and couldn't tell where the road edges were thanks to all the snow, that same sense of creeping dread. "Wisconsin" evokes the sledding nights I mentioned above, but this time we're not sledding so much as watching the snow fall deliberately. I could go on in that vein for a while but the point is pretty simple: this album is evocative unlike any other I've ever heard. I can get into the whole visualization thing with a lot of instrumental albums, letting them conjure up a situation that I find myself a part of, but no other album I've heard does that sort of thing with my own memories the way that this does. It adds to the unsettling atmosphere, the feeling like this music is rooting around in my subconscious at every turn, digging up some scenario I've all but forgotten that it can attach itself to, but it's thrilling at the same time since nothing else I listen to seems to do that.

The personal connections aside though, this is just plain beautiful music. On first pass it reminded me of the best Charalambides material stripped of its psychedelia and blown up to even more epic proportions, but each new listen moves it further into its own realm, one where drones can be soothing and menacing at the same time, where acoustic guitars carry more power than anything you have to plug in, where no matter how long a certain idea gets played for it never gets boring and only gets more hypnotic - seriously, "Felt Presence, Ghostly Humming" should get tedious over its 25 minutes but it steadfastly refuses to be anything other than totally awesome. It's a unique experience, one that each of their other albums that I've heard - so far just Daughters of Darkness and Shadow Kingdom but that will change...oh it will change - replicates to equal effect, but never surpasses the utter thrill of this one. The Dance of the Sun and the Moon could very well become my favorite album of the decade when I re-appraise things in a few years if it keeps going like this, but for now it just has to settle for being completely, unambiguously awesome in every way. I'm sure it can live with that.

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