Friday, December 01, 2006

Plague Songs

The concept LP seems to have had a shot in the arm in recent years. From Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs via Sufjan Stevens recent projects and the prog metal of Mars Volta the left field seems to have embraced the concept LP to its heart.Plague Songs is slightly different. A concept LP ? Sure, but from an arty and obscure genesis this collection was birthed. Ten songs, ten plagues and one of the most original and arresting anthology of music you will hear this year. The soundtrack to a live art installation of the ten plagues of Egypt set in the rainy English seaside town of Margate. Part Wickerman, part Blair Witch part mixtape for the end of the world.The beauty of the collection, its strength lies in the wide variety of contributors and their differing takes on the source material. Plagues Songs glides effortlessly from the sodastream pop of Imogen Heap into the charcoal black nightmare of Scott Walker onto the bluesy piano based lament of Rufus Wainwright. Each artist has taken the subject matter and buckled the narrative, corroded the source. The approaches differ across a broad spectrum of musical tone and voice. The opening track by Klashnekoff mixes biblical quotes, stuttering grime beats and dense vocals flows to evoke dread and tension. King Creosote's Relate the Tale take the plague of frogs and tells it from the perspective of a frog, his dulcet tones riding atop a jaunty acoustic backing. It’s surprisingly effective and touching. Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt tackle the plague of files with a maze of ambient noise and fly buzzing. Scott Walker pares back the mesh of the nightmarish Drift into a murmur of percussion and vocals. His voice hushed and mumbled is thrown against a choir of pitch shifted shrill cries. The result is a cacophony of disquiet and fear. As clammy and claustrophobic as the plague of darkness it describes.Yet for all its dark subject matter there is light and humor on show. Stephen Merrit takes the plague of Lice and sets it against a New Order style backing and laces it with his dark wit. Cody Chesnutt soaks the plague of boils in New Orleans horns and a funky shuffle. The stand out track is The Tiger Lillies Hailstones. A broken boned tale of taking class A drugs in a tin shack. .Marytn Jacques vocals blend perfectly with the bowed saw and piano melody of pure grief. Startling and wonderful. This is an engaging and arresting listen. Get yourself a little bit of the plague

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