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Ex-Wise-Heads - Holding Up The Sky

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Artist: Ex-Wise-Heads

Album: Holding Up The Sky

Label: Burning Shed

Review date: Mar. 12, 2007

Colin Edwin and Geoff Leigh team up for their third studio effort together, Holding Up the Sky, the duo's most satisfying and texturally varied yet. Combining the intertwined legacies of Krautrock and psychedelia while transcending meaningless all-inclusives like "world" and "trance," the disc maintains interest while remaining blissfully in the rhythmic pocket.

While Edwin is best known for his work as bassist in Porcupine Tree, and Leigh is justly lauded as a prominent figure in improvised music, neither “prog” nor “Eurofree” improv is referenced here. In fact, the disc bears very little resemblance to the first two Ex-Wise-Heads albums; the timbres here emit darker hews, sudden transitions from light to shade often producing a sense of controlled disruption. “Snowdrift” opens with brightly transparent drum programming only to plunge into a miasmic world of reverb and phase, bottom-heavy with Edwin’s bass and with the pitch-shiftings on Leigh’s flute. “Royal Flush” drives the point in more deeply with distorted drums, surprisingly “live” for a drum machine, and high-frequency shrillings that combine with Edwin to create some real claustrophobia. The fact that Leigh’s flute work somehow skates and slides over it all lends an element of mystery to this powerhouse track.

Even timbres that are normally transparent are thickened and placed unnaturally forward in the mix. “Accidental Design”’s first moments breathe fresh air, but a sudden in-flux of chord fills the open spaces. Similarly, the rhythmic wooden scratchings of “Termite Parade” are so far up front as to be almost unbearable, as is the tambura in “Gene Pool.”

It is as if Ex-Wise-Heads rely on contrast rather than overt blend to make this music work. The emergent conflict, as one sound usurps another, is one of Holding Up the Sky’s most interesting traits, leading to a different experience on each listen. The group is to be commended for exploring the often dangerously calm waters of pop and finding the life trapped below.

By Marc Medwin

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