Dusted Reviews

The Family Elan - Stare of Dawn

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: The Family Elan

Album: Stare of Dawn

Label: Locust

Review date: Jan. 30, 2008

The Family Elan’s Chris Hladowski claims inspiration from a vast array of regional historical forms, including Azerbaijani music of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Rebitiko sounds of early 20th century Greece, and the U.K. psych-folk outpouring of the 1960s. Whether the listener is capable of identifying each and every touchstone is probably unimportant – it’s the sheer quantity of them that counts. On Stare of Dawn, Hladowski’s debut, modal strings are bent, plucked and strummed into dizzying elliptical orbits. Figures tumble out of the multi-instrumentalist’s bouzouki, guitar, and saz, intersecting with swooping violin lines and rattling, organic percussion before rushing onwards to complete their swirling figures. What keeps these lines from getting tangled, however, is the presence, at the center, of a sustained devotional tone – a crystalline om, placing all elements in their proper balance.

On “All Around” – the record’s 10-minute opener and arguably its strongest track – that om assumes the form of a bent, shimmering note that’s shaken from one of Hladowski’s long-necked lutes. The chiming string figures, mournful violin tones and haphazard percussive noises work furiously to encircle it, like the cyclone gusts of dry autumn leaves Hladowski sings about over-top. The West Yorkshire native’s voice is thin – he’s on Alasdair Roberts terrain with his talk of “A thousand nights / Of fire and wine,” but he lacks the Scottish singer’s expressive depth. Nevertheless, it’s a limitation Hladowski seems to recognize, and he effectively effaces his words behind majestically glistening strings.

In this way and others, Hladowski reminds me a lot of P.G. Six’s Pat Gubler, whose singing is similarly tentative, but who finds a way of leveraging this limitation to his advantage. The two sound so similar in places that Hladowski’s “Wide Eyed Fox” could just as easily be an outtake from Gubler’s Well of Memory; collaborator Hanna Tuulikki’s recorder notes flicker like candlelight over Hladowski’s hushed, double-tracked vocals, which seem to be biding time before his nimble fingers can fully take the reins.

Hladowski stays distinct from Gubler, as well as fellow travelers such as Pelt, however, by studiously avoiding things like distortion or tape hiss. The devotional quality of his music is linked with a kind of acoustic clarity, unencumbered by excessive modal droning or psychedelic murkiness. The beautiful “Over The Hills And Fields I Wander,” the album’s closing track, whirls colorfully on the strength of sun-dappled lute notes, forest glen fiddling, and clanging meter-keeping, swirling at mid-point into one of Stare of Dawn’s few gnarled patches of sound. Nevertheless, it quickly recovers its feet for a chanting, reverent finish.

If the folk underground has gotten crowded of late with devotees of Richard Thompson and Robin Williamson – not to mention those influences’ influences – it can afford to make some room for a newcomer who proves his nominal élan. Stare of Dawn reveals the right combination of dexterous playing and unstudied feeling to qualify as a success.

By Nathan Hogan

Read More

View all articles by Nathan Hogan

Find out more about Locust

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.