Windy and Carl feast on ambiguity, to the point that even that statement resists easy definition. That's because they engage in two types of ambiguity. The first type hinges upon the juxtaposition of contrasting logical parts. In the duo's best work, deadening drones drag their bellies along each song's subconscious outer limits while radiant melodies percolate in the interior. It's a sharp pretty/ugly tourney that never declares a winner -- pop and noise components work to their own resolutions, but raise limitless questions when weighed together.
The second, less artistic sort of ambiguity functions similarly to Creed or Sufjan Stevens's religious praise choruses, which double as secular affirmations of love, positivity, cosmic good vibrations or whatever else listeners might take them to be. Listeners get to pat themselves on the back for embracing "difficult" art, but enjoy the luxury of creating their own resolutions; rather than finding meaning in its ambiguity, the music encourages us to posit its meaning outside of the songs altogether. When Windy and Carl take this approach, they drift toward completely open spaces and flirt with abandoning structure altogether, and their art assumes the role of incidental music. The songs in which this happens are the ones that, in their vagary, act as springboards from which listeners can soundtrack their own lucid dreams, romantic twilights and two-tone super-8 motion pictures. Amorphous Windy and Carl demands multimedia accompaniment, and the simplest way to provide it is with your own fanciful notions; listening to their less sculpted material therefore becomes a very self-centered activity. From creation to consumption, this ambiguity smacks of immaturity and, ultimately, wankery, albeit of a less copious variety than we often hear in pop music.
This generous double EP set -- Windy and Carl's first new recordings in five years -- documents indulgence in both manners of ambiguity. Each disc's murky depths are alternately profound and dulling, splitting the difference between loose, mystical composition and unedited brushes with utter shapelessness.
The Dream House lays out Windy and Carl's longest piece yet: "The Eternal Struggle", a subdued beyond subdued song that takes more than half an hour to unfold. Its blurry microtones suggest eternity more than they do a struggle -- the song progresses about as slowly as a LaMonte Young drone experiment. While "The Eternal Struggle"'s ability to create constancy from such wispy means is commendable, it might be one of the only true failures in the band's catalogue. It's lost at sea before it can even leave the harbor, with impenetrable fog engulfing it to the point that it becomes a slightly hipper form of medicated new age. "I Have Been Waiting to Hear Your Voice" more than makes up for its predecessor, though, pitting oscillating e-bowed guitar against cosmic swirl and reverent long tones. It's the reserved, Eucharistic flipside to recent Sigur Rós, using the same sonics as Iceland's favorite sons to seek communion with the unseeable and unknowable. It reaches without quite knowing what it's reaching for, if there even is anything to reach for.
Dedications to Flea -- an EP recorded to commemorate the passing of the couple's dog, not the Chili Peppers member (and you thought you were finally going to learn what slap bass sounds like in the existential void!) -- sports the collection's best track, "Ode to a Dog". Windy and Carl can't seem to decide whether they want to return to their jangly pop roots or to go off the deep end into an eternal drone; they show signs of drifting toward one extreme, but always quickly recoil into placid middle ground. Ben Lee wasn't just playing '90s slacker dude when he sang "A lot goes on, but nothing happens" -- he was predicting this piece of sublime ambiguity. "Sketch for Flea" is less successful; it's a collection of recordings of Flea, embellished with light strains of melody, but it's more remarkable for its sentiment than its sonics.
Michigan space-rock lovers will undoubtedly rejoice at Windy and Carl's return to the fold, and after a five year wait, even "The Eternal Struggle" is a welcome opportunity to renew the relationship. Hopefully the ambling dreamscaping will end as the couple gets back in the habit of recording, and they'll treat us to more subtle tensions in the future.