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Windy & Carl - Introspection: 1993-2000

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Artist: Windy & Carl

Album: Introspection: 1993-2000

Label: Blue Flea

Review date: Jan. 9, 2003

Outer Space, Inner Worlds

Windy and Carl are a space-rock band, but of the many bands grouped under that vague umbrella heading, the Dearborn, MI duo probably go the farthest towards demonstrating its titular inadequacy. The shimmering, oscillating guitar sound that forms the backbone of space-rock is undeniably central to the duo's approach, yet while most space-rock affects a notion of sound radiating and reverberating into foreign, interstellar "space", Windy and Carl's music is, by contrast, so organic that it seems perpetually to minimize and magnify – to turn constantly inwards. Hence the title of Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren's long-awaited, three-disc collection of singles, compilation tracks, live, and unreleased recordings from 1993-2000: Introspection. In a word, it is an apt summation of a musical career-thus-far that has included full-length titles such as 1998's Depths and 2001's Consciousness. In their quiet, inward redirection of space-rock's textured pulsations, Windy and Carl trace the visceral path of bubbling streams and fluttering dragonflies, of human emotions woven into the rhythms of nature, circadian and otherwise. Viscerally they remain very much on earth, magnifying glass in hand, as many of their contemporaries rocket into deep space with afterburners roaring.

The first disc in the Introspection set is culled from the duo's many singles and EPs and many of these songs, particularly the earlier recordings, are virtually impossible to track down elsewhere. Often they were pressed onto 7" in editions of 50 or less, distributed with hand-painted covers as Christmas gifts or friendly presents. On Introspection they resurface and manage to hold their own against the band's more recent, stellar output. Tracks like "Watersong" and "Dragonfly" – released in 1993 as Windy and Carl's debut 7" – demonstrate a closer proximity to conventional song structure than what would later develop, with Windy's slightly Nico-esque vocals (minus the accent) closer to the front of the mix than anything recorded since. "Dragonfly", with its echoing Velvets jangle and dreamy, wandering guitar, is nevertheless a true highlight. The band's first single for Enraptured is another gem, with Hultgren's guitar on the A-side, "Fragments of Time and Space", rippling with a muscled menace, before lapsing again on the B-Side, "Emerald", into a gentle, prismatic dancing of colorful hues. Songs from split 7"s with Electroscope, Hopewell, and the Silver Apples among others, ensue, with the band's textured atmospherics fluctuating gently with each track change before rolling to a close with "Universal Energy", a decelerated Stereolab-type pop gem, complete with farfisa and bells.

The second disc, culled from compilation appearances, is my favorite of the three. It begins with "Beyond Asleep", a six-minute wash of fuzz guitars most reminiscent of their Darla Bliss-Out Series EP, Antarctica. In other words, it's the kind of atmospheric piece that will have its listener on an imaginary ice shelf, breathlessly knee-deep in snow, faster than you can say "Sigur Ros" or yodel in faux-Icelandic. "Program" is a Silver Apples cover, and sort of startlingly uncharacteristic for the duo, though not unappealing. I could have sworn that the tinny ricocheting beat was a drum machine, but Windy claims in the liners that she "tried and worked for a long time to be able to maintain a steady beat throughout." Live performances from a show in Detroit ("Underground") and the second Transmissions festival in Chapel Hill ("Live Song From Transmissions") form the core of disc two, and present a more elongated and amelodic side to the duo. The latter in particular is a dark storm cloud of static-electric guitar – chaotic and menacing even without much of a low-end rumble. "Near and Far", a nine-minute eulogy taken from a split CD with Amp, follows immediately after and is more akin to Windy and Carl's usual fare. The lead guitar line and beautiful, wandering bass feign a pop structure, before Windy's voice emerges ethereally, hovering above a gradual crescendo of oscillating drone. As the mournful lyrics meld with the blissful confusion of noise, the pop scaffolding dissolves, leaving in its place a bittersweet texturing that feels true to its form as eulogy.

The third disc presents mainly live versions of songs heard previously, either elsewhere on the collection or on the band's full-lengths. "Undercurrent" and "Set Adrift" are hypnotic as always, but don't manage to eclipse the versions on Depths. Alternate takes of "Lighthouse" and "Whisper" are more interesting, as they're more heavily modified from their appearances on Drawing of Sound, with extended vocal sections on the latter and an accelerated tempo on the former. The set concludes on an upbeat note – a more skeletal take on their "pop song," "Universal Energy".

The fact that so much of Windy and Carl's early material first appeared on hand-painted 7"s distributed in many cases as gifts should in itself be enough to make the pair's aesthetic approach winningly likable, and the Introspection liners are no less charming (Windy: "the artwork … has added to people's opinion of us being pot heads. Well, it seemed cool at the time"). The notes consistently follow an endearing format in which Windy sketches out the emotional background of a song's composition ("a very simple love song… about how everyone's belly is fuzzy") which is followed immediately by the dry, factual recording and release information by Carl ("recorded in 1996 onto 8-tracks… from a compilation CD given away with an issue of Chunklet Magazine in March 1997."). Introspection is a rare thing; few bands ever get the chance to compile this much superb material for retrospective release, and fewer still go about the process with as much loving, personal attention to detail. As an aesthetic labor of love, as a sprawling retrospective collection worthy of detailed perusal, and as a casual, lulling bedtime accompaniment – Introspection succeeds on all counts.

By Nathan Hogan

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Songs for the Broken Hearted

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