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Alexander Tucker - Third Mouth

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Artist: Alexander Tucker

Album: Third Mouth

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Mar. 23, 2012

Alexander Tucker constructs surreal landscapes out of the most natural materials: shifting major-to-minor key guitar patterns; the throb and drone of cello; a high, supple tenor that moves easily along melancholy, modal paths. Bits of synthesizer, found sound and electronic enhancements lurk in the crevices of these songs, but do not account for their essential strangeness. Tucker, on this sixth solo full-length, has a transcendentalist’s eye for the spiritual within the material. The Third Mouth of this album’s title comes from Tucker’s mother’s occasional tendency to speak in tongues, and the juxtaposition of the homey and familiar (mom) with the inexplicable (religious transport) runs through these nine songs.

Tucker has been making music since the early 1990s, starting as the singer for the punk bands Suction and Unhome. But he quickly developed an interest in improvisation and experiment. His first self-titled album was released by Tom Greenwood’s U-Sound label in 2003. (He has also released three solo albums for the ATP label, and one previous to this for Thrill Jockey.) He is, perhaps, best known for his collaboration with Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))), but he has also worked with a broad range of experimental artists, notably Daniel Breban in the soundscape-ish Imbodogon.

Third Mouth, like his previous solo album, Dorwytch, is song-based, loosely related to folk in its instrumentation and modal melodies, but too modern and open-ended to be really traditional. Some of the songs — long “Glass Axe,” for instance — toy with the multi-part complexities of prog. Others — “Mullioned View” and “Window Sill” — append lengthy experimental codas to the main bodies of songs, in the case of “Mullioned View” a buzzing, humming, electronically enhanced rhythm, on “Window Sill” as a cascade of chimes and the sound of running water.

The combination of guitar picking, pervasive drone and a mystic bent makes Six Organs of Admittance a natural comparison, though Tucker’s songs are far less dominated by six-string than Ben Chasny’s and contain a good deal more vocal complexity. “Mullioned View,” for instance, breaks into massed harmonies and counterparts near its midpoint, sounding almost like a madrigal at times. Tucker, sometimes multiplied into an overdubbed choir, sings the notes straight on, without vibrato or any kind of scrape or bend in his voice. There is also a lightness, a sunniness, a sense of weightless bliss in these songs, and a complete absence of the scrape and grease of blues-style singing.

Tucker is a big fan of drone, and his songs tend to be grounded in a luminous foundation of sustained sound. There’s very little silence, then, in between phrases, so that even a hint of staccato (as in the guitar opening to “Mullioned View,” the hammering guitars of “Andromeon” or the clanking rhythm of “Amon Hen”) seems abrasive, even shocking, but perhaps necessary. The whole album could shimmy past you in a daydream without these intervals of aggression.

Yet, it’s perfectly possible that disembodied beauty was exactly what Tucker was going for. “Third Mouth” is arrestingly pretty, with its delicate guitars and looming, swelling synth notes, but also unfathomable. You sense an unreachable secret hidden in the fleeting imagery, in the blurry, bleary vocals that suggest but don’t reveal. “I was only dreaming, ah, ah, ah,” Tucker confides, and once the album’s over, you may feel that you, too, have woken from a dream.

By Jennifer Kelly

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