Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl (Drag City)
By Scott Creney
Less droney than the typical Sun O))) record, less aggro than the average Boris (whatever that is), and less body-beating than both, Ensemble Pearl (containing members from both) walks their way through a kind of blissful ambient sludge. It’s more soundtrack-y than anything else, lots of reverbed-out thuds that sound like ominous footfalls, and impossible-to-define trickle sounds that evoke industrial drizzle. All the songs are down-tempo, more stagger than swagger.
I say sludge because of the imminent doom and foreboding thunder, minor intervals and ripping skin. Imagine a German Dirty Three. Of if you’re feeling cynical, imagine a 10-year-old boy pretending to be a monster, stomping all over Tokyo in a nuclear-induced haze.
Less tortuous than reading an essay by Jennifer Milliken, but more tortuous than a delicious plate of chicken marsala with tortellini alfredo on the side, Ensemble Pearl kind of splits the difference between being either great or terrible. Let’s call it a big bowl of brown rice.
‘Ghost Parade’ opens the album in style, round full deep notes spaced out like the chiming of a gigantic clock tower striking six-hundred-forty-two o’clock, interrupted by the occasional slow gong.
‘Painting On A Corpse’ is less sinister than the title sounds, more like a tranquil river—the effects make the guitar sound like a spinning nickel about to fall over on its side. Halfway through an electronic buzzsaw sound arrives and slices through the fog.
I’m assuming the ‘W’ in ‘Wray’ is silent (there are no vocals on this album, by the way — that’s what makes it ‘ambient’). I used to play a fun game when I was in a situation where I had to spell something — usually on the phone. I’d say things like ‘that’s with a P, like in pterodactyl’, or ‘o as in possum’. Now, thanks to Ensemble Pearl, I’ve got another one I can use. Thanks, Ensemble Pearl.
The song ‘Wray’ sounds kind of oriental, in its instrumentation and its scales. That’s how you know it’s different from the song before it. Also, the electronic buzzsaw never arrives. It’s important to mention this because you’d think ‘Island Epiphany’, the next song, would be the one to sound vaguely Polynesian, but you’d be wrong. ‘Island Epiphany’ sounds like a slow march up the mountain towards a volcano. If I were in a cynical mood, I’d probably mention that staggering monster thing again.
On a sincere note, there’s a great part in ‘Giant’ where everything shifts upward in pitch and a bunch of spaced-out piano notes move in underneath it. It sounds so great that a few minutes later they decide to repeat the trick, and it’s every bit as blissful.
The first three songs are under seven minutes; the second three are over 10 minutes. This seems like it might be relevant, but given the lack of forward movement, the absence of variety, in each song, it matters less than you would think.
Album closer ‘Sexy Angle’ (any angle greater than 90 degrees in case you’re wondering, b/c the other kind is just a cute angle) [! – Ed] adds a cool dubbed-out delay pedal snare drum to the mix — more of an oil drum than a snare drum, but you get the idea.
Ensemble Pearl is out now. There are worse ways to spend your time, but there are also better ways.