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Thuja - Pine Cone Temples

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Artist: Thuja

Album: Pine Cone Temples

Label: Strange Attractors Audio House

Review date: Aug. 1, 2005

The Jewelled Antler Collective is an American West Coast-based group of improvisers, songsmiths, and general experimenters that have accumulated a deep back catalogue full of bright and brittle sounds that stretch themselves across a variety of complementary interests and influences. Not only are these guys one of the longer running ensembles that traffic in these realms, they're also one of the best.

Thuja is arguably the flagship project of the collective, having been assembled a few years back from the smoldering debris of venerable (and yet still somewhat unheralded) space-rockers Mirza, and counting among its members some of the primary movers within Jewelled Antler – Steven R. Smith, Loren Chasse, Glenn Donaldson and Rob Reger.

Pine Cone Temples is the group's first recording for Portland-based label Strange Attractors, with the quartet having released a trio of great discs on Emperor Jones and a debut on the always enjoyable Tumult label. Spread out over two discs, the eight pieces that make up the album unite the various strains of Jewelled Antlers' means of expression: the tunefulness of the Skygreen Leopards, the abstractions of the Franciscan Hobbies, and the thoughtful drone-based natural ambience of the Blithe Sons.

Comparatively, Pine Cone Temples ditches some of the more overtly accessible elements of predecessor All Strange Beasts of the Past, instead placing the emphasis on wide open spaces and the familiar hum of rust covered drone that colored much of the group's earlier material. The band utilizes a slew of instruments in pursuit of this aim, but also (as with many other Jewelled Antler projects) take advantage of somewhat unorthodox recording techniques. To wit, you're as likely to find the band jamming to tape in a forest or a national park in California as you are in a stuffy practice space. As such, bird song, great gusts of wind and the reverberations of a host of different members of the flora and fauna of the group's surrounding areas make uncredited appearances here and there. To some, the idea of tracking outside might seem cutesy, but in reality it's a sublimely powerful move. With the studio functioning as a sterile, controlled environment, the great outdoors stretch the notion of improvisation to its limits – each and every performance bears the mark and influence of an untold number factors, few of which the band can actively influence. What results is a reaction to unrepeatable conditions in areas that are becoming more and more endangered as our techno-centric society sullies up our great land.

But I digress. Musically speaking, the hundred or so minutes contained herein are masterfully executed and presented. Six of the more easily digestible pieces course throughout the first disc, ranging from the fat-bottomed drone and clanking percussion of the second piece (as always, the tracks are all unnamed) to the third track's loping piano and weather-beaten background screeches. A sparse accompaniment of rattles intertwines with ebbing hums, as accordions and guitars stop by to chat briefly with winged creatures throughout the epic fourth and fifth pieces. The second disc is a bit more grand in scope, finding the quartet at times pulling moves that could be described as Neubauten-esque - that is, if those wily Germans put down their power tools and retreated to the country-side for a sun-lit nature walk. Sure enough, the near half-hour that closes the disc and album rank among the finest moments in all of Thuja's catalogue – all acoustic terror and patient extrapolation that has few points of comparison.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Thuja

All Strange Beasts of the Past

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View all articles by Michael Crumsho

Find out more about Strange Attractors Audio House

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