Charalambides are at the same time one of the most frustrating and beguiling bands that I've heard in recent time. They create music that most people wouldn't even consider music. In the past decade, they've evolved from a more standard noisy drone band into literally a genre in which they are one of the only residents that I know of. Kranky gave their Unknown Spin (which was previously only available on limited CDR) a re-release last year as a warm up, and now the group has arrived with their newest full-length of Joy Shapes.
This release is an epic in every sense of the word. 5 tracks stretch out and absolutely sprawl over the course of over 75 minutes and the it's just about the furthest thing from easy listening (definitely uneasy more often than not) that I've heard in some time. Once again, the majority of the release is created from droning and plucked guitar and the absolutely otherworldly vocals of Christina Carter (with Heather Leigh Murray also adding vocals at times). Unlike the improvised Unknown Spin, this release was created in the studio and the sense of mysticism is increased even more given the capability to layer and place everything more dramatically.
The group wastes no time getting inside your head, as the opening track of "Here Not Here" runs well over 20 minutes and alternates between sparse (yet dense) passages of droning guitar and the vocals of Carter that build to sound nearly possessed by the final passage. Had I been played the release with no previous knowledge, I could have easily mistaken it for some sort of hypnotic ritual music. "Stroke" follows and takes a slightly more liner route as multiple guitar layers weave a steady trance-inducing tapestry that builds and folds gently on itself.
Although this is a studio creation, the album still keeps much of an improvised feel. Probably the most effective track on the release is the album-titled "Joy Shapes," with guitar melodies that actually take a fairly solid form and vocals by Carter and Heather Leigh Murray that push things into very nearly a hopeful realm. Almost as if the group felt that track was too structured, they follow it with another nearly 20 minute track in "Natural Light," an almost disconcerting epic of chimes and bells and horror-movie guitars and otherworldly vocals. It's sparse and spooky and perfectly represents why there's really no one else making music like the Charalambides today. If you thought Low were as slow as it goes, this is a group that will literally test your mind with their music that literally sometimes sounds as if they're creating spells to slow down time. Some will think it's brilliant, many will think it's a chore to simply sit through. I lean somewhere towards the former, but also sometimes sway towards the latter.