In two decades together, Charalambides have never come up with music so specific as the eight songs on Exile. Tom and Christina Carter (once married, forever united in music) have made double albums in a night; this one took four years, and it shows. Every note is placed just so, every sound is just right, and even though half of the tunes last over 10 minutes, there’s nothing extra. They sound like they have been pared to the core; there are long passages where you only hear one or two guitars and a single voice. Christina has indulged in some high-flying vocal maneuvers over the years, but here every word, every quiver, every crack and rise in her voice is absolutely necessary. The way she sings and the melodies that Tom plays dovetail into a multifaceted examination of loss.
There’s no point on Exile where the Carters employ a blues form, and only on the wasted-life dirge “Immovable” do they play anything resembling a blues lick, but they’re playing the blues nonetheless. They recount a myriad of sorrows without sugarcoating them, but they also transcend them. On “Desecrated,” Christina delivers incantations confirming the inescapability of death — and the inevitable accrual of guilt by those who traffic in it — over guitar fuzztones that toll like a church bell. But the leads, which leap out of the song like flames from a heap of ignited logs, feel like escapes, and when the Carters turn to the inevitability of interment on “Into The Earth,” the music is once more full of release, even compassion.
On the band’s last album, Likeness, Charalambides used old American folk lyrics like mirrors to both reflect the stains upon the country’s soul and burn them away. The Carters are just as cognizant of these afflictions on Exile, but the struggles they recount are individual ones, and the tongues they speak in now are their own. This is a heavy record, and yet, a reassuring one. Take it with you when you go.