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Artist: English

Album: English

Label: self-released

Review date: Oct. 9, 2006

All I got in the mail was a CD-R in a white slipcase emblazoned with a single word: “English.” To be honest, the mystique was lost on me; I knew that this was the name of the Seoul-based electroacoustic duo comprised of Joe Foster (trumpet, digital delay pedal, electronics) and Bonnie Jones (digital delay pedal, microphones). But the missing inessentials suits this gritty music. I listen to this disc with the sense that it’s some smuggled document, capturing radio waves and hidden exchanges of some sort – muffled, refracted and coded.

English is quite harsh and disruptive, even more so than much music in this genre. At times, I felt that Foster and Jones had taken Voice Crack’s instrumentation (“cracked” everyday electronics) literally, and wanted to break the instruments, break the tools, break the sound itself, and then fashion the pieces together again in some arch and inscrutable dialogue.

“The Capturist” flits about like electronic moths bumping into a porch light, their actions framed by the constant shimmering, a ghost tone vapor-trailing into the night. The second track is filled with grating sounds, slashes of blades, and what sounds like the whirring to life of surgical instruments. “Senator Bustamante” opens with a great flatulence, a harsh declamatory shout that recurs frequently amidst long periods filled with the hiss of radios jammed between stations. “A Hair Found in an Old Book by a Bald Reader” is a skull-boiling study in contrast, with slow-bore guttural excavations providing a housing for the intense squeals in the upper register. And the closing “Doubt” is a lovely low fizzle of a track, almost sub-aural in places.

What unites all these tracks is the duo’s propensity to pursue ideas with the same kind of insistent focus of +minus. But this focus is always balanced by English’s mischievous streak, where rude interruptions and upendings ironically provide context. Not everything about this recording compels, and at times I was struck by the sense that English didn’t quite have their own voice yet. But those are minor quibbles, because the fresh and surprising far outweighs anything else here.

By Jason Bivins

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