splendid > reviews > 4/28/2004
Don't Climb on and Take the Holy Water
Strange Attractors Audio House

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "The Misprint in the Gutenberg Print Shop"

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Most improvised music is arse. Ever since post-rock broke, young people with hand-eye coordination and access to musical instruments have used improv as a cheat, a work-around -- a way to avoid all that tedious extra time spent learning how to play their instruments properly and assemble interesting songs from the ground up. They're forgetting that even the loosest improvisational composition depends upon more than luck -- it hinges on the chemistry between the performers, their history working together, and their ability to find (and adhere to) structure within the apparent randomness of their output.

That's why Don't Climb on and Take the Holy Water works, even though it's far less structured than most of Kinski's music. You could even say that it isn't Kinski's music; the material here was drawn from, or at least inspired by, shows that the group's three guitar-toting members (Chris Martin, Lucy Atkinson and Matthew Reid-Schwartz) played as Kinski's free-form alter-ego, Herzog. As such, the most you can expect to recognize is the members' familiar performance techniques, unconstrained by rock music conventions. There's very little verse/chorus/verse stuff on Kinski's more "mainstream" material, and absolutely none of it here.

If you've ever seen the group live, you won't be surprised when their flights of effects-pedal fancy take center stage. Four of the five pieces come in at under five minutes; bookends "Never Compete with Small Girls" and "There's Nothing Sexy About Time" are basically warm, floating slabs of texture, imbued with just enough striated variety to keep them interesting. "Crepes the Cheap" is a richer canvas, full of layered effects and disguised voices, and "Bulky Knit Cheerleader Sweater" is a burst of Roy Montgomery-inspired tonal belligerence, packed with poltergeist rhythms, mechanical clatters and oscillating effects, building to a rattling, resonant climax. It's probably the disc's most "immediate" track, and certainly the best reason to listen with headphones on.

"The Misprint in the Gutenberg Print Shop", at less than a minute shy of half an hour long, is the album's obvious centerpiece, as well as the only song on Don't Climb on and Take the Holy Water that was actually recorded live -- if you turn up the volume during its quieter moments, you can even hear the audience chatting. Due to its extended length, "Misprint" passes through several loosely-defined "movements": an initial bout of twittering guitar interplay; a vaguely Asian flute interlude from Reid-Schwartz; a jumble of sci-fi effects and glass-bottle percussion; an Eastern-tinged guitar line that maddeningly echoes the first few notes of "Paint it Black"; a brief but ferocious climax of knife-edged guitars and throbbing bass; a drawn-out fantasy flight of sustained guitar texture, noodly melody and lilting flute; the final, brutal, reverb-drenched, caterwauling noise-climax; and the tinkling bells that extend the metaphorical run-off groove. While it's easy to compartmentalize (albeit inaccurately, as each new listen reveals fresh details), "Misprint" is nowhere near as structured as a typical Mogwai or GY!BE cut. The sections flow easily together in a luxuriant sprawl, perhaps best experienced while lying flat on your back.

Not all Kinski fans will need, or even want, this disc, and the group seems to understand that. The album-cover sticker offers an on-target insight: this is the next Kinski album, but not the next Kinski album. It fits into the band's canon rather like an hour-long filmed interview would slot into an actor's resume -- it's work, but without all the planning. If you're looking for the planning, you're better off waiting for that next record. If you're open to the idea of an interesting band (or seventy-five percent of one, anyway) exploring the limits of their instruments while the tape rolls, climb on.



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