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splendid > reviews > 3/18/2003
Cul De Sac
Cul De Sac
Death of the Sun
Strange Attractors Audio House


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Dust of Butterflies"

Buy me now
Three years in the making, Cul De Sac's concerted effort to create something different from the rest of their catalogue is a high-water mark for this Massachusetts-centered backwater bunch.

With the addition of a new member solely responsible for the adaptation and inclusion of sampled and sequenced material within the context of Cul De Sac's sound, the group brilliantly explores the possibilities of merging their acoustic roots with the liquid potential of the digital realm. Rather than simple appendage, the sequenced material is an unremovable element of each of these selections. The most exciting moments are those in which these new textural, passive electronic elements coalesce with acoustic instrumentation and the warm, organic environment they evoke.

Extensive liner notes from each full-time member of the band concerning the recording of the album and related experiences offer an insight and context too often missing from contemporary instrumental composition, in which the artist's project is often left unarticulated. Histories sometimes need to be written in order for the significance of the present to reveal itself, and Robin Amos's reflection upon the pronounced position electronics occupies on Death of the Sun accurately and astutely summarizes the shift that has occurred since the band's last studio album. Cul De Sac's fascination with the simple pleasures afforded by guitars, violins, melodica and percussion remain in place, while accent is placed upon the reconstituted sounds of field recordings, scratchy 78-RPM Creole recordings and the ghostly harmonies of a 1930s German a cappella vocal group.

Sequencing is the album's only flaw. As a listener, one comes to understand Cul De Sac's inclination for tribal drum exercises and manic, Indian-inflected drone extravagance. But on Death of the Sun, some of the most impressive down-tempo moments aren't given the opportunity to rest in our consciousness; instead, they get caught beneath an avalanche of percussion or sound-experimentalism. Album opener "Dust of Butterflies" offers the most mellifluous vision of Cul De Sac's project, yet this neo-pastoral beauty disappears throughout "Bamboo Rockets, Half Lost in Nothingness, Searching for an Inch of Sky" and "Turok, Son of Stone", only returning (in part) during Glenn Jones's majestic personal reflection, "Bellevue Bridge". Despite this relative weaknesses (and it's a fairly subjective criticism), this is easily Cul De Sac's most accomplished and exciting release yet.

Death of the Sun could very well be the crowning achievement of this mature Northeastern collective of music connoisseurs. Imagine Ry Cooder with a sampler and satchel full of fresh ideas. There are no dead ends here.



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