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Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Love is a Stream

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Artist: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

Album: Love is a Stream

Label: Type

Review date: Feb. 2, 2011

If love is a stream, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma begins right in the middle of it, hip deep from the first moments of this album in a blinding torrent of white sound. As you listen to “Stained Glass Body,” however, separate elements begin to untangle themselves, a bell-clear melody that floats through the fog, the tremulous wheeze of multiple synthesizers.

Love is a Stream is an unusually beautiful album. Its diffuse soundscapes recall Belong and the tape decay experiments of William Basinksi. Its ventures into abrasion suggest a more austere, less song-structured My Bloody Valentine or Jesu. But what’s fascinating about it, finally, is not its slumberous gorgeousness, but how the mind and ear adapt to hearing these sounds during the course of the record.

As a founding member of Tarentel, the proprietor of the Roots Strata label and a sometime participant in kraut-ish Alps, Cantu-Ledesma is well versed in the use of drone and repetition. Repetition is a kind of short-hand for eternity; the same small phrase reiterated continually can shed its particulars and reach for the universal. Yet, with Love Is a Stream, Cantu-Ledesma seems to go beyond repetition into a kind of spiritually enlightened stasis. Layers of sound seem to co-exist not sequentially but simultaneously, the prominence of altered vocals, guitar sounds and wavering curtains of tone shifting forward and back. “Where You End and I Begin,” the most compelling of these tracks, juxtaposes a hauntingly distant vocal melody against the tension of guitar static, so that both exist at once, in varying relative strengths, for most of the song’s duration. Listening to the song is like glimpsing a world outside of time, where everything exists at once, eternal and unchanging.

Cantu-Ledesma lays large translucent washes of sound over one another, obscuring or even eliminating the melodies that run through them, and playing with the way that tones can fray at their edges into fragments. It’s a technique that can produce great beauty, but also a sense of vertigo, as all the normal musical signposts — melody, time signature, tempo — disappear. Most people’s ears will struggle with this music, at least at first, working overtime to try to resolve currents of pure tone into recognizable song structures.

Interestingly enough, you do get better at hearing this stuff as time goes on. Opener “Stained Glass Body” may sound like an undifferentiated blast of audio stimulus, yet by the time “River of Spine” rolls around, you’re beginning to pick out rivulets of melody that run half-submerged through the flatlands. “Wild Moon and Sea” is even more legible, and “Mirrors Death” has a somber internal logic that is evident even when hidden by static. It’s not that these closing tracks are any easier than the earlier ones. The mystery remains. The stream is still running past. But by the end, you’ve learned, at least in a small way, how to swim in it.

By Jennifer Kelly

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