One of the most compelling aspects of guitarist Roy Montgomery's musicianship is his ability to evoke the truth and beauty in things and ideas he cannot see -- at the time of recording at least -- and express them aurally through the his particular prismatic and painterly gaze. This series of "songs" is a prime example of Montgomery's ability to locate specific places in his mind's eye -- in this case, the South Island of his native New Zealand -- and offer them as shimmering, subtle glimpses of that exotic locale with little more than a cheap guitar, an effects box, a four-track cassette recorder, and an E-Bow. Like many of his albums from the period, Scenes From the South Island is trancelike in its repetition of chords and phrases, played over and over and filtered through effects and tape editing, subtly changing, moment by moment until they become dynamically different works in structure, harmonic construction, and dramatic facility. The record opens with "Along the Main Divide" with a strummed chord intro, some drone strings playing triads, and a subtle melody line winding its way along through the middle. The feeling is one of looking down from a great height and gazing at the panorama of the land's expanse. On "Clear Night, Port Hills," controlled feedback becomes the melody line -- in the same way Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine employed it -- infused with an undercurrent of sparse chords and reverb effects. The ten-minute "Twilight Conversation" is hallucinatory in its subtlety and the shape-shifting quiet tension it creates between the guitar and the E-Bow; figures dance through the shadows of the quiet, lulling the listener into a reverie where she senses that something, or perhaps many things, are taking place, all of them underneath the level the strum and drone that inhabits her hearing. Whispering single string lines wind around E-Bowed chords and drones, a quiet yet insistent pulse held by the bass strings reverberating endlessly, always seemingly in fade only to roar a few moments later -- in key. Only "The Road to Diamond Harbour" and "Winding It Out Into the High Country" reveal Montgomery cutting loose the way he does on his later records (Allegory of Hearing and Silver Wheel of Prayer). Here, huge, distorted chordal and chromatic waves meet drone lines -- sounding like the whine of electrical wires -- and percussive feedback sounds are looped through the effects box and layered on top of the aurally dense and ferocious mix. The disc closes with "Nor'Wester Head-On," which fades into "The Last Kakapo Dreams of Flying." As the great wind chime in the song takes over your ears, it is already past you, over with, erased into disappearance by the gentle but melancholic dream of Montgomery's that whispers this remarkable, expressionistic soundtrack to a close.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek