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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
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Gregor Samsa
Kora Recordings

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." The opening line to Kafka's Metamorphosis, the source of this Richmond, Virginia orchestral slo-core band's name, is perhaps, an opening into their first full-length album, coming six years into Gregor Samsa's collective career. These eight songs, full of oceanic swells, sudden silences and naked vulnerability, have both the clarity of Kafka's prose and the otherworldliness of his storyline. There are transformations here, too, as the music moves serenely from one state of being to another, from minimalist murmurs to triumphant explosions. These are lovely, tranquil, yet deeply disturbing songs, built on slow-changing textures of guitar, whispered voices, stately drumbeats and mournful piano chords.

Not much is known about the members of Gregor Samsa, at least beyond the founder and sole remaining original member, Champ Bennett. The band's last record, 27:36, was intended to be a full-length, but money ran out mid-session and it became an EP. The band foundered for a while on interpersonal issues, then regrouped with Bennett's brother Billy on drums and friend Jason Laferrera on bass and keyboards. Nikki King provides the mysterious female element, her pure soprano intertwining with Bennett's in quieter moments. They recorded again in 2005, just the four of them, generating an almost orchestral sound, with quietly meditative interludes alternating with giant emotional payoffs. There's a minimal purity to songs like "These Points Balance," that might remind you of early Low, yet comparisons to such post-rock symphonists as Godspeed and Mogwai are also relevant in the slow-growing grandeur of 10-minute long "Even Numbers." When the cut erupts, breaking out a tidal swell of violins and drums after more than two minutes of sparse guitar interchanges, it's breathtaking and in retrospect, almost inevitable.

Perhaps the most beautiful of all these songs is "Young and Old," a dreamy slow drift of reverberating guitar tones and brushed percussion. The voices, King and Bennett in soft, breathy harmony, enter in, blowing gently on the song until it glows and finally catches fire. There's a quiet break mid-track, some sort of mallet on cymbals and barely discernable guitars, joined finally by cello, swelling that instrument's heavy warmth.

Gregor Samsa's music is filled with vast spaces, barely muted silences, and voices that may or may not make themselves understood. Gorgeous, lonely, thoughtful and mysterious, these are songs for people who wake up one day not completely sure who they are, but are willing to forge on through unfamiliar landscapes.

by Jennifer Kelly

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