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Ensemble Pearl - Ensemble Pearl

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Artist: Ensemble Pearl

Album: Ensemble Pearl

Label: Drag City

Review date: Mar. 18, 2013

In some circles, Ensemble Pearl might be considered a supergroup, but the group’s M.O. is more the destruction of rock tropes. Possibly a one-off album helmed by Stephen O’Malley, the guitarist most known for his work in Sunn 0))), Ensemble Pearl brings together a group of musicians who have all collaborated before, working in a similar vein of heavy, atmospheric drone. O’Malley is joined here by Michio Kurihara, the Japanese guitar wizard who’s played with Boris, Ghost and White Heaven; Atsuo, Boris’s drummer; and Bill Herzog, who has played stand-up bass in the Sweet Hereafter (guest violinists include Timba Harris and Eyvind Kang). The album consists of six songs, or more accurately, unflinching studies in interweaving patterns of slowly rung chords, feedback squalls, and laidback yet unrelenting drumming.

Three years after Sunn 0)))’s acclaimed Monoliths and Dimensions, Ensemble Pearl finds O’Malley and company wandering in the hazy spaghetti Western inflected landscapes charted by drone pioneer Earth on its last few albums. Rather than a heavy bottom line of impossibly low guitar chords resonating forever, Ensemble Pearl uses a slightly less mean axe, letting chords, and occasionally notes, ring out. The first two tracks, “Ghost Parade” and “Painting on a Corpse,” along with the epic 20-minute closer, “Sexy Angle,” all cop moves from Earth’s fakebook, but where Earth treads a weary desert of reverb, each step potentially the last, Ensemble Pearl explores rhythm. Listening to this album simulates the effect of the space between ripples in a pond. From one chord to the next, the magic happens: in the trough, looking at the swell.

“Sexy Angle” is a tour de force in anti-rock. There’s a death rattle to every smack of the tom, and the guitars’ chords portend a repeated progression that never comes. Only at the end does the song rock back and forth between two chords, and it’s here we’re treated to the sickest sounds of Ensemble Pearl. The feedback and violins warble like something stuck in the throat, or perhaps the death of a vocalist.

The members of Ensemble Pearl have made an album that takes heavy, and turns it into a contemplative virtue. O’Malley and Kurihara are masters when it comes to holding a guitar and not playing it, the feedback screaming like a body begging for one more touch.

By Scott Branson

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