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Burning Star Core - Challenger

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Artist: Burning Star Core

Album: Challenger

Label: Hospital Productions

Review date: Oct. 10, 2008

Burning Star Core’s Challenger strikes me as an exacting homage to the soundscapes of horror films from, oh, about 30 years ago. Although never harsh and in fact often pretty, it is deeply unsettling stuff, a mindfuck for sure. Indeed, the sort of horror film to which the album seems to allude is neither the slaughterfest nor the zombie movie, but the mentally punishing and ultimately unresolved sci-fi psychodrama – The Thing or Solaris, for instance.

I say soundscapes rather than soundtracks because there is, crucially and threading its way through the album, the second-order detail of aged VHS tape causing sustained tones to modulate in and out of tune (especially on the title track and the excellent "Mysteries of the Organ"). No one with more than 10 years of home-viewing experience would fail to recognize the association and, given the horror score’s propensity for drones, such fluctuation is particularly audible. In that case, Challenger is not so much about horror movies as it as about watching them, or remembering having watched them, or remembering having heard oneself watch them.

The notes mention very few production details, but it seems likely that C. Spencer Yeh (BXC’s lone permanent member) edited vocal samples, field recordings, and organ, among other pieces, largely eschewing his primary instrument, the violin. (Oddly, the last track, "Un Coeur de Hiver," borrows its title from a French film about a violinist.) Each song builds methodically, its samples accruing toward a point of dark tension before cutting out abruptly. These are not narratives in any sense.

"Mysteries of the Organ," for example, adds a second, equally melancholy organ at about a minute and a half in, opening the track up to an even fuller grandeur that chugs toward its ending without climax or fulfillment. Like the gooey dehiscence of the dichromatic planet leaking Technicolor slime on the front cover, there is a sense of rupture that runs in only one direction – the entropic, from which there can be no return. This is, of course, how effective horror movies operate. By unleashing something without specifying the extent of its destruction, that destruction envelops the viewer in its infinitude, which is why we can’t sleep at night.

By Ben Tausig

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