Wednesday, April 27, 2016

They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy's "Far From the Silvery Light"

Photo by Ginger Berry
They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy is a collaboration between two of the most individuated artists to emerge from the small but hardy North Texas experimental music scene. (Denton's long been a hotbed, but currently, Dallas is supporting two regular performance series: Cody McPhail's monthly Dallas Ambient Music Nights, and Stefan Gonzalez's weekly Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions. And Fort Worth...lags behind.)

Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Sarah Ruth Alexander has performed with a myriad of Denton-based improv and noise ensembles, as well as the progressive rock-influenced Cerulean Giallo. (I first encountered her singing backup with freak-folknik Warren Jackson Hearne and the Merrie Murdre of Gloomadeers.) Her solo work incorporates elements of "voice-as-instrument," storytelling, and performance art. Last year, she released Words On the Wind, a haunting and deeply personal meditation on a desolate place -- specifically, the West Texas farm where she grew up.

Guitarist Gregg Prickett is a member of the ritualistic jazz-rock trio Unconscious Collective. He was the last guitarist to work with titanic drummer-composer Ronald Shannon Jackson, who thought highly enough of Prickett's compositions to include two of them in the setlist for his last live performance. Prickett has played in numerous other groups, including black metal band Dead To A Dying World, Wanz Dover's garage rock outfit Black Dotz, and his own heavily Mingus-influenced Monks of Saturnalia.

The duo's inaugural release, Far From the Silvery Light, drops in June on Tofu Carnage, a label that understands The Romance of the Artifact, favoring heavy colored vinyl and deluxe packaging, with artwork by Ginger Berry that effectively conveys the label's aesthetic.

The music runs the gamut of human emotion, creating an atmosphere that's eerie, primal, and atavistic. While both musicians are classically trained, they're seasoned enough improvisers to use their technique to channel subconscious energies. It's thrilling to hear the sound of Alexander's voice so clearly -- both in its pristine state and with electronic embellishments -- outside the clamor of a large ensemble. Prickett matches her with shimmering arpeggios, bone-crushing distorted chords, and shuddering dissonances, the metallic clangor of his feedback and scraped strings matching her ululations and agonized shrieks.

The thematic content of this mostly wordless record relates to subjects the two artists have visited before in their separate endeavors: loneliness and isolation; mankind's loss of connection with the land and the human and animal spirits that inhabit it. The album's centerpiece is the sprawling, 16-minute "Comancheria," which can be viewed as a continuation of two Unconscious Collective songs named for different Comanche bands, and inspired by the different ways in which they responded to genocidal colonization by Europeans. When a narrative does intrude, it's in the form of two views of a confrontation between humans and animals, a text informed by the understanding that those who had a purer relationship to Nature often died by its violence.

Far From the Silvery Light is both a notable achievement for its creators and a compelling listening experience for those with adventurous ears.


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