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Lucky Dragons - Widows

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Artist: Lucky Dragons

Album: Widows

Label: Marriage

Review date: Sep. 8, 2006

Spreading the half-dozen Lucky Dragons CDs I’ve accumulated over the past two or three years on the rug in front if me, it seems like a matter of common sense that Widows would be as beautiful and fully realized as it is. Listening back to the F_uxus EP from six years ago reveals the traits and ideas that become characteristic of Lucky Dragons, if unpolished and a little clumsy. And 2002's Dark Falcons is already a very personal album, with leader Luke Fischbeck’s intuitive skill at rearranging rough snippets of guitar, voice, drums and field recordings. The EPs leading up through the 2004 mini-album Faults (collected, along with F_uxus, last year by States Rights Records on A Sewing Circle) show steady, organic growth indicative of a clear artistic vision. Themes emerge, are examined, expanded, transformed and resurrected in a slow movement toward a coherent and complex language. Along this path the missteps are few and the bulk of the output is engaging, but the music has largely appeared in spurts, EPs and 7's too short to take full advantage of the emotional weight of their contents. Widows, only the second Lucky Dragons full-length, realizes the promise of these releases. The album is cohesive and mature, and shows the arc of the band's work gracefully extending upward.

Fischbeck’s electronic world has often been run through with streaks of folk music, from the verse borrowed from Sir Thomas Moore at the beginning of Dark Falcons to the gentle acoustic guitar and singing of “Newman” from Faults, but on Widows the influence is seamlessly folded into the whole. Recorder, acoustic guitar, dulcimer and soft, wordless singing make up the bulk of the source material, played by Fischbeck and the friends that make up this incarnation of Lucky Dragons, that is then rearranged and processed by laptop. The resulting songs are both organic and fantastic; tumbling, polyrhythmic and in turns exuberant and meditative. A few are allowed to spread out beyond the two-minute range typical of Fischbeck’s work, and bask in the calming wash created by overlapping and recurring fragments of recorded sound.

A large part of what makes Lucky Dragons’ music engaging is Fischbeck’s use of the techniques of heterophony, and organic, almost accidental, polyrhythm. Heterophony is a term sometimes used to describe music in which the melodies are intuitively or instinctively varied and embellished, as is common in folk songs, for example, or, on the other side of the spectrum, Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. The result is that the songs exist between the realms of melodic and figurative music; that is, they register as melodically and rhythmically based, but in a way that allows the textures and emotions latent in the songs come to the fore. They have a vital pulse and staying power uncommon in abstract music, but operate outside the realm of conventional catchiness, too.

But I don’t mean to dissect the album with sober terminology. The initial, and most important, impact of the music is emotional. Widows is focused and sturdy as a whole, beautiful and vital in its parts, and (greatest testament) an album I often find myself putting on the stereo.

A side note: Widows is sold along with a companion EP called Mini Dream Island, which is a collection of live recordings and remixes of album tracks, and a few odds and ends. The appeal of the disc is mostly its charm; it’s fun to hear the relative bombast of the live sets and the remixes range from impressionistic jaw-harp interpretation to academic, process oriented deconstruction to full-on house make-over with pounding bass and slow filter sweeps. I doubt anyone would be disappointed by the disc; I doubt anyone would be blown away.

By Raf Spielman

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