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Joshua Burkett - Gold Cosmos

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Artist: Joshua Burkett

Album: Gold Cosmos

Label: Feathered One's Nest

Review date: Apr. 24, 2002

Times were tasty during the mid to late nineties, and what better way to celebrate than by reliving a golden age of sweet than by bringing back the winking jangle of coastal pop? The loosely defined Elephant Six collective did this nicely as bands like the Apples in Stereo, the Olivia Tremor Control and Beulah leapt to a relative forefront. The number of major chords and progressions grew exponentially as hundreds of bands learned (and then taught) that while great pop may be near impossible to create, writing ear-pleasing A-D-G pop was as breezy as the beach. I don't know if Elephant Six bares its logo anymore, let alone exists as a "collective," but its members persist and the phenomenon of a non-logistic, but somewhat binding musical association seems to have been an intriguing success. The more recent and far more mysterious Tower Recordings collective, the only other musical collective that I know of (save perhaps the distinctly labelesque Anticon), does not appear to have any similar ripple effect in its production or appreciation of its genre. Tower Recordings, a New York ensemble whose ranks include multitasking hero Tim Barnes, unify with an archaic folk sound that, without being specifically nostalgic, sounds unmistakably archaic. Last year's Folk Scene brought together all affiliates on a release that was promised to "please all those enamored of the English pagan folk rock of decades past." Unfortunately its non-melodic and grating antiambience was part confustion, part disappointment. Hot on its heals, however, was member PG Six's brilliant solo album, which, although it was tempered by ditzy harp interludes and psych overdoses, showed that with a little tightening of the collar these folks had the capacity to make music that was quite powerfully pleasing. Joshua Burkett's (or just "Joshua," as he appears here) new album, Gold Cosmos falls somewhere in between the Folk Scene and Parlor Tricks', lacking PG Six's clarity and precision, but keeping many of its haunting melodic sensibilities. While Bukett himself is not actually a member/affiliate (although he did once appear on stage with them), Folk Scene features guest appearences by Tower Recorders PG Six and Matt Valentine, and bears many similar tones and moods to those of the Tower Recording ilk.

Gold Cosmos is built primarily of layers of acoustic guitar teased with other instrumentation. On it Joshua uses his voice infrequently and when he does so it is as a backing instrument rather than a focal point. The third song, "Look Floating," comes about as close as Joshua gets to conventional folk. While guitar is buzzily strummed, his voice, audible (barely) but incoherent, mirrors a light lead line. The effect of Joshua's use of voice as a non-dominant instrument is not unlike Scott Herron's rhythmic vocal choppings, and nearly as effective. Drummer Chris Corsano cuts the well-established tension nicely with a bassless drum crescendo that relaxes, and then finishes. "Previous Dream Life's Woods" is another one of Gold Cosmos' more traditionally conventional songs. Its structure is unusual regular, and while Joshua's vocals are remain at the bottom of the mix, their melodic purpose is far greater than most other parts of the album. A simple horn melody ushers in the song's close with beautifully sparse pop simplicity. On its own it is perhaps the album's strongest song, but when surrounded by such general innovation it comes off as being as ordinary as it is excellent.

Indeed, while his songwriting is rarely straightforward, Joshua's song structures often hold a heavy Tower Recordings influence. They contain irregular repetitive patterns, or sometimes none at all, and are often punctuated by odd vocal samples, bells, harp, or even "moon guitar." On the second song, "Lavender Eagle," messily plucked and strummed guitar allows for melody and mood to hop between Benedictine eeriness and soundscape psychedelia. Instrument breaks provide a gentle hint of pop, but reverbed acoustic ambience is clearly the emphasis. The instrumentation is fairly constant and the melodic structure even more so, but Joshua maintains mystique quite well as the song does not loose focus nor does it appear to stagnate.

While Gold Cosmos is not mind-blowing, it is quite impressive. To my reluctant surprise, the folks in Tower Recordings and their friends seem to be on to something quite nice. On their own, PG Six, and Tim Barnes have each proven to have more than just the potential for greatness, and Gold Cosmos offers further hope that it's only a matter of time before this quasi-genre releases its quintessential, definitive masterpiece and brings "psych-folk" to it's unrightful place at the forefront.

By Sam Hunt

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