Friday, November 5, 2010

Review: The Red Masque - Feathers For Flesh (2004, Big Balloon)

The Red Masque are an avant-rock band from Philadelphia founded in 2001 by Brandon Ross (bass, keyboards) and Lynnette Shelley (vocals). They have released one EP, three studio albums and one live album. You can read more about them here.

The Red Masque

Go here and here to download in a Pay-What-You-Want fashion their EP and first album. More downloads are available here. Videos are to be found here.
Check their Myspace for more samples.

Below is my review for their second full-length studio release from 2004 called Feathers For Flesh.

Feathers for flesh, Music as their shield

Starting with a wind and occasional percussions and then hissings that go stronger and stronger with some chanting and cries floating by, this haunting and frightening atmosphere creates a tension and anticipation in me, the listener – what will come next? An explosion of sounds? Yes! A powerful, fuzzing and fantastic bass gives a great complex rhythm accompanied by the rest of the band, and Lynette’s cries. This is a very powerful entry, one that grabs me strongly and gets my undivided attention.

TRM know how to create a compelling, even frightening atmosphere, whether it be in a fast, bombarding way, or in a slow, more minimalist and gloomy fashion. Their sound pierces, traverses through my brain leaving deep markings (in a good way).
The opening sung lyrics – “I Live In A House Of Ash” – as Lynette performs them are mesmerizing! Her voice is as beautiful as it is powerful and controlling. She manages to convey feelings very well with her deep evocative voice. However, in this case, if TRM would have only vocals and the band would not be as effective as them it would lose much of the effect. This brings me to the point, that the band plays very well and with passion. The drums are all over the place when needed and give the right amount of support when they recede more to the background.

While you might recognize influences in their various songs, I feel they have well crafted a sound of their own, a niche that they inhabit and a comfortable place they hold.
They cover a ground from quiet (yet it can still sound terrifying) and unhurried (as in the songs Passage, Beggars & Thieves) to the fast, furious and complex (parts of House Of Ash and of Yellow Are His Opening Eyes); they also play a more conventional sound, but then shift away suddenly and make it more complicated sounding or the other way around, move to the simpler from the more complicated parts (see Passage). Basically they are varied with respect to the complexity and intensity of the music they play.

They move from angular form to a smoother, softer and rounder sound. They also tend to go for the more epic form of songs; long, with various different parts and complex with regards to structure and playing style. They are not afraid to experiment, and do this in the sound they create and in the composition’s structures, not forgetting the original theme and musical idea that started the song.
Another aspect to the band is the more avant-garde approach as can be heard in the last two songs. In “Yellow Are His Opening Eyes”, Lynette’s voice as she narrates/sings, reminds me of Diamanda Galas. What a fabulous voice!
In this song when the abstract, rhythmless part ends, they show how they can rock (heavily) and do it very well, in a sophisticated way with an influence from King Crimson Red-era.
In fact the King Crimson vibe can be heard in various points in the album (again, Red era). It’s as if they’ve taken KC sound and “mutated” it so that it fits their vision.
You might think that beauty is absent here. Well what is beauty in your eyes? I think that all the songs here are beautiful; but if you want a more common perception of beauty then, Beggars and Thieves with its folk sound is definitely the song here which will appeal to the wider musical palate. With another powerful vocal delivery, Lynette is fantastic in this song, backed up by the excellent musicians in the band.

With the closing song, Scarlet Experiments, comes experimentation as the name implies. The songs is amorphic, going up and down in volume, it has “disturbing” sound effects, hissing vocals; it is abstract as if someone were painting a musical canvas not sure what he wants to paint, only having a vague image in his mind, a very basic idea; and he uses the brush with violence one moment and then calming down the next to bring to life his unclear vision. It is a sort of exercise in “drawing” the music to describe your vision.

I find this album to be a magnificent listening experience. The band performs wonderfully, bringing to life a vivid vision which is as beautiful as it is complex. I recommend this highly to people who want an artistic, adventurous and experimental form of rock that takes in what is perceived as common and usual and absorbs it into what is viewed as unusual.

The Red Masque - "Carbon 14" and "Das Snail" from Vonorn on Vimeo.

The Red Masque - "House of Ash" from Vonorn on Vimeo.

More videos here

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