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The Wind-Up Bird
(Music Fellowship)

This is one of those little releases that slipped under nearly every (including mine) radar in late 2003. It's one of those discs that I expected to enjoy a little bit, given the few reviews that I'd read on it, but it not only surprised me, but has found such regular rotation in my CD player that I'm already considering revising my year-end list to include it. Created by Joseph Grimm and Jeff Smith, Whips is a loosely-conceptual album about the disolution of a long-term relationship and the subsequent despair, longing, and loneliness that comes afterwards.

That said, one might suspect that an album about such a turn of events to be heavy-handed or even overbearing, but it's just the opposite. Blending sonics that sound like a mixture between Stars Of The Lid, 1 Mile North, and even Dirty Three, the group finds just the right blend of melancholy and hope over the course of 8 tracks and 45 minutes. The opening three tracks of "Sorry" and "That I've" drift by on a bed of manipulated strings and guitars, wandering through peaceful meadows of sound that slowly evolve and shift, only slowly adding a touch of menace on the third track "Become."

It's on the fourth track of "This," though, where all the beauty comes crashing down into a pile. As fluttering electronics drift in the background, a filtered phone message plays (left by Grimm's long-term love). At the end of the message, the one phrase of "I Love You A Lot, Sorry That I've Become This Monster" is looped and turned into a vicious mechanical frenzy of feedback and electronic splinters that's enough to even probably please a Merzbow fan. Just when you think it's gone on for too long (which it probably does), it drops off into "Monster" (noticing a trend with the song titles?), a desolate piece of violins and warm drones.

Even if the middle tracks are a bit on the difficult side, a majority of the final three tracks get right back into what is so great about the disc, which is lovely ambient music. In fact, if you enjoyed the aforementioned 1 Mile North release, you'll most likely want to check out this disc. Although the second to last "You" gets a little out-of-hand on the noise factor, the album closes out nicely with a soft Rhodes melody and submerged beats on "A Lot." While it's not a completely smooth ride (nobody said that breakups weren't), Whips is definitely one worth listening to.

Rating: 7.75