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Lichens - Omns

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Artist: Lichens

Album: Omns

Label: Kranky

Review date: Jul. 10, 2007

On a recent guest post at Alex Ross’s blog, the composer and critic Justin Davidson suggested that music’s future possibly “lies not in whiz-kid symphonists but in the kind of collaborative anonymity and taste for intricate layering that filled the airwaves of the Middle Ages with organum, parody masses and polyglot chansons.” He probably didn’t have in mind 90 Day Men bassist and vocalist as well as TV On the Radio collaborator Robert Lowe, but Lowe’s solo project Lichens comes pretty close, on a number of levels, to fitting the prognostication. His second full-length is full of layered, wordless chants that aggregate into wheezing, billowing drones; robust yet delicate guitar work and passages of pulsating organ-like tones. Over five standout pieces, Lowe weaves these ingredients together into a remarkably focused collection of gentle beauty and organic composition.

Simplicity is the key here, as Lowe stays away from the maximalist tendencies of much modern-day drone. He isolates single elements, such as his soft, reedy voice or skeletal guitar themes, and then gently unfolds them in a chain of discrete events. This methodical approach leaves room for bits of melody to emerge and gives all parts room to breathe. It lends purpose to the roomy meditations for solo guitar (“Bune” and “Sighns”), but achieves its full effect on pieces like “Vevor of Agassou” and “Faeries,” scaled-down version of this slow-burn evolution. “M st r ng W tchcr ft L v ng n Sp r t,” however, is the approach writ large, 18 minutes built from three distinct movements. The piece never climaxes, instead it shifts shape from a cell of repeating, buzzing acoustic guitar figures to an undulating series of steady organ pulsations and string-like textures, then eventually empties into a calm sea of twittering bird noises and Lowe’s clouds of vocal harmony. Omns shows that in the right hands, drone and free-form music can be more than merely ecstatic, but truly transformative.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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