The Satyrswitch and Salamander Reviews- Feb 2005

satyrswitchsalamanderthe satyrswitchMatt Zaun- Skye Klad and Salamander

Monday, February 28, 2005
The Satyrswitch The High Lonesome Sound of… (Camera Obscura)

If the Salamander review below made you curious of the fledging Minneapolis psych/folk/improv scene I suggest that you also check out the Satyrswitch, which primarily is the solo work of Skye Klad and Blitzen member Jason Kesselring. Just like Bent Hemlock, this late 2004 release offers a step away from Kesselring’s previous outings. On The High Lonesome Sound of Satyrswitch we find him exploring all kinds of folky traditionalism; from old-school Americana and acoustic ragas to captivating acid folk. It’s all surprisingly melodic and structured but nevertheless rewarding.

The very capable bit of folky pop and soul-touching harmonies, which is Stan Jones’ ”Ghost Riders in the Sky”, is a catchy stunner where Kesselring’s baritone vocal comes to full effect. The vocals is probably a hit or miss thing depending on who you ask, but if you ask me they add something distinctively unique to the somewhat dark proceedings. The acoustic folk guitar and fingerpicking techniques present on the lovely “Israfel” makes me think of equal parts Bert Jansch and modern interpreters of the Takoma tradition, and if that’s not a good thing I am not quite sure what is. The High Lonesome Sound of… does admittedly borrow plenty of elements from the past but is still a powerful and beautiful listen.

# posted by Mats @ 12:16 AM
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Friday, February 25, 2005
Salamander Bent Hemlock (Camera Obscura)

Here’s one of the most anticipated records I’ve been fortunate to treat my ears with in the last cpl of months, a brand new recording from Salamander, the much-beloved Minneapolis psych/space/improv/folk unit. I am positive that most long-time fans will enjoy this CD but I am also quite sure that they’ll be equally surprised by its relatively downcast folk vibe. With slow dark folk attributes, Salamander escorts us to a dark rural vista and when you expect the guitars from the previous records to suddenly blast in, they choose to explore the same hidden track through the outskirts of forested psych/folk all over again, and the results are just mind-bending. The improvisational component is still very much present but it’s playing a much more sporadic and concentrated role on Bent Hemlock.

The relatively short opener “Galleon” presents a solemn combination of beauty and melancholy, with the unmistakable touch of the Appalachians hovering just on top of 11 year-old Madeline Westby’s angel-like vocal delivery. Then “The River Song” is positively gothic in its presentation, a vibe that largely comes from Sean Connaughty’s unmistakable voice and I guess that the violin that meanders around the acoustic guitar just further cements this feel. Before it all sinks to the eerie depths of the ocean some tasty guitar fuzz appears on the horizon, but we can only hear it in the distance and when the acoustic brilliance of the slightly Pelt-sounding “The Somnambulist” appears it’s already long gone. The more upbeat “Portal” is closer to what we’ve come to expect from this quartet, but then “Diagram” again emphasizes on the most vulnerable side of their repertoire. “Nocturne” is just like a handful of other tracks on the album an instrumental snippet of sorts that beautifully manages to knit a strong link between the relatively different styles of the band’s two primary songwriters, the aforementioned Connaughty and Erik Wivinus. “Call of the Hills” is a Wivinus track that sets acoustic guitar strumming against a howling wall of feedback and in the middle of it all we find Dave Onnen and Matt Zaun not only providing an impressive rhythm section but also keeping the whole thing in one piece.

Despite its relatively mellow vibe, Bent Hemlock is easily one of the most haunting records I’ve heard in 2005. It’s an album of great depth of maturity, and honestly quite unlike anything you’re likely to hear this year. This better make some year-end top ten lists.

# posted by Mats @ 4:18 AM

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