this review originally appeared in Thaumaturgy, a blog dedicated to new experimental and psychedelic music
April 24, 2005
Gown, The Rich Lives of Trees
Some albums make an instant impression, imprinting themselves on the memory due to stunning songwriting, audacious content, or sheer novelty. Others ingratiate themselves slowly, requiring repeated listens before their charms reveal themselves to the patient ear. Gown's The Rich Lives of Trees certainly falls into the latter category. While initial exposure left me relatively nonplussed, the warmth and intimacy of this little sleeper of a release eventually won me over. It's a raggedy blanket of sound- worn and patchy in places, but ultimately a comforting quilt to wrap 'round you in the still, small hours.
Gown is one of the musical outlets of Andrew MacGregor who, until recently, coaxed humble magic from his instruments from his home base in Vancouver, B.C. (The artist himself has informed us of his imminent relocation to W. Massachusetts.) On this brief (24 min.) release, MacGregor keeps it simple: multi-tracked guitar and the occasional wordless vocal or reedy sigh seem to comprise the entirety of the voices on the three pieces included here. Opener "Bird Wings on the Water" starts slowly. Tentative, plucked notes and the hollow echoes of a struck acoustic guitar body fumble a bit at first, but eventually mesh into a strummed 2-chord progression that bears witness to MacGregor's ability to craft an endearing and hypnotic piece using the simplest of tools. The second track, "Loudest Thing" is cut from the same cloth turned inside out. Here the progression of the first piece is inverted, as the structured strums, creaks and breathy sighs of the first half gradually and inexorably unravel into a tangled and dizzying skein of delay-soaked, multi-tracked guitar and voice. My only complaint is that it ends too quickly, dropping out just when it begins to build in intensity. The last track, "Mystical War Canoe", begins innocently enough as well, but soon it too gets pulled off course, riding a rough river of scrabbling strings and little swirling eddies of notes before MacGregor grabs the rudder and steers it back into calmer waters.
Live, Gown is a slightly different proposition. In a duo pairing with Christina Carter last month, MacGregor's trancey, low-key guitar work complemented Carter's own patented blend of free vocals and playing quite effectively. It was only when he eschewed the half-heard moans and sobs of this release for a more hysterical, off-key brand of ululation that his contributions lost some of their potency. As this release shows, MacGregor is well on his way to developing a distinctive voice of his own as a performer. If The Rich Lives of Trees is any indication, we have much to look forward to.
The Rich Lives of Trees is an admirable first outing, and a recommended release for those with the patience to suss out its subtle but undeniable charms.
Contact Gown here.