St. Van Cortlandt & The 101 - Songs Without Faces, Friends Without Words
Of course, ending the opening track, "The Mark", with an extended period of chatting and joking in the studio is bound to create that effect. But don't be fooled. This is cleverly crafted. And if that opening track sounded a bit amateurish (which was my first impression) dispel that thought for what follows is far from it. "Uncle Charley and the Lost Tambourine" moves beyond the simplistic by producing a fuller sound, with more instrumentation. And then it continues - "Travelodge" has a kind of quiet-loud-quiet formula in a largely acoustic setting with a harmonica producing some of the density and atmosphere which is unusual in what is still a largely folk based track with other themes poking through.
Quite how St Van Cortlandt and the 101 manage to cram so much into their sound is quite remarkable. Some of the tracks are so thick with sound that they could almost be ‘heavy', a sensation enhanced by the production. At times you begin to doubt, for instance, if there is any percussion hiding there. There must be. But you can't detect it. Then it appears - a quick drum flourish - before back into the melee. And when an occasional electric guitar breaks through ("D.EA.F") it has an impact straight away. It all comes together on "All Souls Parish" which is without doubt the best track on the album. Almost epic in its sound; uplifting when not being uplifted is something to feel guilty about, the track comes to an end too soon.
In truth, St Van Cortlandt and the 101 have delivered something which is what a band like Midlake would have given their right arm to do. Never mind Sufjan Stevens thinking about making an album for each and every state in the US - this is all fifty states rolled into a single album. The album could as easily take you on a journey across the idiosyncratic features of the USA or lock you in a basement with a geek on Facebook and let you discover the world from there.
If there is a big flaw it is in the inclusion of side effects - feedback, crackling and the banter - at the end of various tracks. I guess there may be a point to it, but the album would do better without them. Pink Floyd did it on Dark Side of the Moon and I am afraid it has become a little passé since then. It is certainly distracting. There is enough in the music to hold the listener's attention without resorting to such tricks. Songs without Faces, Friends without Words is an album which might well surprise you - provided you give it the time and the space to do so.
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