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Abunai! - Two Brothers

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Artist: Abunai!

Album: Two Brothers

Label: Camera Obscura

Review date: May. 4, 2003

A Fond Farewell in High Style

It's perhaps somewhat unfair to review this, as it's a 12" EP limited to 350 copies, but as scarcity is hardly a measure of worth, review it I shall. As an added incentive, this has the distinction of being the swansong from Boston's Abunai! After five years, the band has come to an end and its members have scattered to various other groups, new and ongoing, including the Lothars and Squall.

For better or worse, their final release sees the band going out at a particularly high point. The three songs on this EP also represent a perfect combination of what I've felt are Abunai!'s dual modes of operation. They've always veered between specifically song-oriented works, with a fondness for traditionals, and out-there sonic explorations best exemplified by their fantastic "Round Wound" release. Here, they satisfy both sides of the equation. Two versions of the title track are offered, one specifically sticking to the song, the other sticking it to the song. They're then augmented by an intense live version of "Lord Hampton".

The more faithful version of "Two Brothers" features an atypical female vocal; Cheryl Wanner's guest vocals on this track are beautiful. The traditional song is treated with care, but updated as well. The acoustic guitar is augmented by a thick bass tone and slow washes of wah-guitar. When the male vocals (probably bassist Dan Parmenter) later take the lead, it's with a strong, confident tone. The song unfolds at a leisurely pace over seven and a half minutes, picking up energy and intensity gradually, almost invisibly. The lead guitar's vintage fuzz that kicks in halfway through fits in perfectly, not rushed and not out of place. Altogether, this is a fantastic treatment of this sad traditional.

Recorded live at the fourth Terrastock festival in Seattle at the end of 2000, the sound on "Lord Hampton" is remarkably clear, if a bit overly bright; not uncommon for live material. Sung with nearly breathless intensity by Parmenter, this is a high-energy song, almost rushed in this live performance. Joe Turner's drums rock, Parmenter's bass is solid, and Brendan Quinn's fiery guitar mixes with Kris Thompson's keyboards during the breaks to create layers of texture and tension.

The flip side is a greatly extended, 15-minute version of "Two Brothers" that opens with echoing flute and hypnotic layers of vocal harmonies delayed across each other. The drama of the dense guitar, keyboards, and faraway vocals is perfect. This version of the song places more emphasis on pure out-there spaciness -- even turning the bass line into a dub-like skeleton -- than on the story of the song, but what's impressive is that the feel and spirit of the tune remains clear throughout. Thompson's synths are active, skittering in and around the bass and drums, as bits of percussion are delayed in dubwise fashion and the electric guitar even takes on a dub riff. The vocals remain ghostly for the most part, reverberating in the background behind the instruments. A very impressive piece that will satisfy anyone looking for a great sonic trip.

By Mason Jones

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