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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Lewis & Clarke
Blasts of the Holy Birth
La Société Expéditionnaire

Rating: 8.7/10 ?

June 15, 2007
With the first cello note, Lewis & Clarke's sophomore release Blasts of the Holy Birth announces itself as a different kind of "folk." This is the kind that seems like it grows straight out of the garden and, standing amid rows of vegetables, if you were to close your eyes you could almost hear it. The nylon guitar and harp strings add a delicate feel to the music, and with eight tracks averaging about 6 minutes each, the lush arrangements have no problem filling up the space. Blasts of the Holy Birth is heavily colored by vocal harmonies and layers of strings, each of which manages to push the melodies up to a crescendo and then back down again.

The epic track "Before It Breaks You" stands out amongst a startlingly consistent album; it clocks in at over 10 minutes but is not overbearing, the delicately picked classical guitar notes pacing it alongside subtle percussion. The track exemplifies the restrained aggression often apparent in classical symphonies but rarely accomplished in a pop music setting (not to be confused with Conor Oberst's outburts). Chief songwriter and lead vocalist Lou Rogai croons over a tempered synth chorus, "Another heartbroken winter/ would be the death of us all... the radio is broken/ she sings out the truth in the night/ you might see a horizon/ but the ending is never in sight," his poetic images blasting out the song's subtle power.

The man behind the Lewis & Clarke curtain is Rogai, but sections of Blasts of the Holy Birth have been outsourced to members of Man Man and Rachel's, lending it a bit more weight with the cred-conscious. Rogai currently resides in the Delaware Water Gap of Pennsylvania, but Lewis & Clarke's songs are not strictly flavored by the Pocono Mountains; Rogai's delicate vocals match the staccato nylon strings and keys with hints of Eastern music influences as well. The sitar and shuffling percussion make a brave step out of the folk mould on the fifth track, "Black Doves," its haunting melody affording it the space for a long instrumental passage that could stand as a classical piece on its own. The haunting atmosphere achieved here brings to mind a more fully realized version Jose Gonzalez' stark Veneer.

After "Black Doves" the album then switches gears with its only cover, "Comfort Inn," which follows the established pattern as instruments fade and grow and a piano solo takes over in the second half of the tune. The melody here takes a few more listens than the previous tracks, but each listen unearths a new layer. Internally, the songs have many such interlocking levels, and across the album as a whole each tune fades into the next and Blasts of the Holy Birth's meticulous textures pervade each track. Musically, the instrumental passages (and the entire first track) can at times be a bit self-indulgent, but they all come sweeping back with Rogai's subtle vocals. Blasts of the Holy Birth is perhaps most defined by its cohesiveness; it is more than a collection of songs.

Don't expect to approach Blasts of the Holy Birth as a one-hit, catch-and-release affair, as Rogai and his collaborators have culled a set of melodies that achieve a haunting beauty. At times the instrumentation is deep enough that the lyrics can deceptively seem an afterthought, but they are full of simple images that faithfully support the melody and don't overpower it, and the winding breaks and instrumental passages can take time to appreciate. My music teacher in college described Beethoven's ninth symphony by its startling use of the power of repetition. Rogai's symphonic Blasts of the Holy Birth plays like a folk symphony that could stand as 8 movements or 8 songs in one cycle.

Reviewed by Jeff McMahon
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Jeff McMahon



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