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Badgerlore - We Are All Hopeful Farmers, We Are All Scared Rabbits

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Artist: Badgerlore

Album: We Are All Hopeful Farmers, We Are All Scared Rabbits

Label: Table of the Elements

Review date: Aug. 8, 2007

In its MySpace bio, Badgerlore gets styled (somewhat jokingly, one imagines) as a sort of secret society. Judging by the 10 oblique meetings contained herein, the group also has the secret society’s requisite protocol, one inaccessible to outsiders. Listeners are left to wonder how interesting it might be to eavesdrop when you don’t speak the language.

For this third installment, the group has initiated Glenn Donaldson (of Jewelled Antler renown) and Liz Harris (of San Francisco’s Grouper) into their inner workings, a move that has expanded the group to a six-piece. The core duo of Ben Chasny and Rob Fisk (doing this since 1998) is still around, while Tom Carter and Pete Swanson (from Yellow Swans) return for their second stint. The latter four were responsible for the musings of Stories for Owls, a 2005 release that was held back somewhat by too much shapelessness and groping for ideas. The challenge for this new ensemble becomes how to mold their sound, but not too much. Shapelessness is certainly part of what Badgerlore is about.

Teasing out who contributes what is problematic, and not altogether necessary. Guitars and other stringed instruments form the foundation, but voices, as well as percussive, electronic and ambient noise, are just as important. The recording, while surrounded by a sepia-tinted audio murk, gives all the sounds a tactile quality. Highs have a metallic ring; the lows resound with a brassy, church-bell menace on a funeral day; the feedback is dense and visceral. The nine-minute “Grow Your Hair” is domed by a massive vault of silence. The damaged chords and single pungent tones in the distance fade into the emptiness that hangs above them.

Foregrounding ambience over form shakes something loose in the group’s imagination and allows them to steer their interaction down multiple paths. There are three miniatures that run under two minutes, “Goodnight, Sweet Rabbits” approaching the simplicity of a lullaby and “Whichever” evoking the sacred air of a church choir. There are diffuse, extended improvisations such as “Furbearer,” where the members wander almost independently before coalescing into a strange droning harmony. Some pieces, such as “Mountain Wine,” are almost song-like, with steadier pulses and lyrics. But the sextet only implies these forms, and like in their instrumental interplay, the forms overlap and merge. “The Crops That You Tend” first develops as a call-and-response between banjo and feedback, then morphs into a choral of polyphonic chanting.

Restraint is what ultimately holds We Are Hopeful together. Tempos stubbornly refuse to move past a crawl, with “We Are All Hopeful Farmers” never getting far from a state of inertia. The group keeps their playing allusive. They contemplate the chasm but never jump off the cliff. Some listeners will find the group’s refusal to gel into something cohesive too much of a barrier. Others who don’t look for resolution will find that We Are All Hopeful eventually teaches one its language, albeit slowly, and never completely. Puzzles have answers; mysteries do not. Badgerlore seems to content let the mystery linger.

By Matthew Wuethrich

Other Reviews of Badgerlore

Stories For Owls

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View all articles by Matthew Wuethrich

Find out more about Table of the Elements

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