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From Quagmire - Caught In Unknowing

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Artist: From Quagmire

Album: Caught In Unknowing

Label: VHF

Review date: Feb. 5, 2003

Goth-Noise Collision

In the liner notes to From Quagmire’s Caught In Unknowing, Dorothy Geller is credited with guitar, vocals, songs and “skeletons.” “Skeletons” sounds about right. From Quagmire play a brand of acoustic goth and noise that doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before. Unfortunately, From Quagmire doesn’t sound quite finished, like a collection of demos – skeletons – waiting to be fleshed out. Worse, the playing styles of Geller, violinist James Wolf and percussionist Vincent Van Go Gogh aren’t right for one another.

Geller’s songs are usually very simple – they typically contain a creepy minor chord progression or two, an ultra-minimal approach to rhythm, and her tiny, sullen-sounding voice. I don’t find the songs especially interesting, even though they’re clearly supposed to be the center of attention. Fortunately or unfortunately, Wolf doesn’t sound too interested in them either: he can’t help but interrupt Geller’s slow chords with noisy, almost free improv-like screeches. The rhythms Geller uses are methodical and rigid; Wolf’s nervous twitches are anything but. Geller’s songs on their own ask you to pay close attention, but Wolf’s approach guarantees that you’re not going to.

In a way, though, Wolf has the right idea: his scraping is disruptive, but it’s textural, and Geller’s songs need texture badly. Despite the presence of Wolf and Van Go Gogh (who also plays improvised flourishes, albeit more sensitively), Caught In Unknowing is way too sparse. Geller’s songs would make more sense with electronic accompaniment or a full band behind her.

Of course, that might make her music sound less distinctive, but Caught In Unknowing is only really unique in its attempt to cram a square peg into a round hole. If From Quagmire continues to base its music around Geller’s inflexible rhythms and bare-bones melodies, then Wolf and Van Go Gogh should tone down the ametrical improvising and play in a more complementary, straightforward manner. If, on the other hand, the group decides that its most important features are Wolf and Van Go Gogh’s improvisations (this decision is the better one, since Wolf and Van Go Gogh’s improvisations are far more compelling than Geller’s songwriting), then Geller has a lot of relaxing to do. The Dirty Three shows that minor key melody and loose improvisation can peacefully coexist if the songs are written with room to breathe. From Quagmire would be much more compelling if they took this route.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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