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Sandro Perri - Tiny Mirrors

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Artist: Sandro Perri

Album: Tiny Mirrors

Label: Constellation

Review date: Oct. 10, 2007

As Polmo Polpo, Toronto composer Sandro Perri has drifted from murky ambient techno, through deep organic drone, to more bare instrumental arrangements. His personal masterpiece, 2003's Like Hearts Swelling, submerged dance beats, jazz guitar and cello under layers of radio static and drone, resulting in dense slabs of melody and texture that ebb and shift over the span of the each long piece. 2005’s Kiss Me Again and Again, a 21-minute single-track EP, conjured the ghost of Arthur Russell circa Dinosuar L and channeled the influence into the best argument for ‘disco drone’ ever put forth. Earlier this year, Perri released another EP (this time under his own name) which featured reworked drone material with live musicians, an enjoyable effort that helped prepare fans for his latest effort. Tiny Mirrors scraps the abstraction and thickness that so skillfully imbued earlier material and aims to lay bare the voice of the person behind the music. The songs – and they are definitely songs now, rather than compositions – are built around guitar and voice.

For an artist who has rarely sung on his records, the choice to have voice carry so much weight might seem risky. But Perri's is a wonderfully unassuming voice, mellow enough on the whole with occasional leaps in register. The phrasing is lively without a trace of busyness, and it avoids the references to either roots traditions or jazz that these basic ingredients so often strive for.

That said, there is a sort of tossed-off feel that implies improvisation. One gets a sense that all the vocal lines and transitions weren’t quite nailed down before each take. Perri and friends thrive within this looseness. It’s in these instrumental arrangements that his experimental inclinations show up. Horns, lap steel, a really flat bass drum, cello and euphonium flutter around the mix and give the impression that the players half-remembered the score, at best, but share a level of comfort that pulls it together.

For an artist who has spent much of his career focusing on timbre, it’s understandable, even likely, that lyrical or topical content would stick to supporting roles. But the vibrancy of the playing, combined with Perri’s voice, delivers all the life the record needs. There are a few tracks during the record’s second half that can’t maintain the salience of the rest, but only the over-wahed guitar on “Love is Real” crosses any lines of good taste.

While the variation of Sandro Perri's output over the years has been significant, it wouldn’t be fair to say that he's all over the map. There is a very distinct personality at work throughout the arc of his career. Even the deepest poly-textured drones of Like Hearts Swelling conjured a remarkably human pulse. While Tiny Mirrors may lack the heft of previous triumphs, it’s also the clearest trace of that pulse to date.

By Brandon Kreitler

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