Steven R. Smith

Slate Branches

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Steven R. Smith's slow but entrancing transformation of his work from more conventional, if skilled guitar drones and improvisations to something even more mysterious and involved can be sensed at points on Slate Branches, collecting as is often the case, home four-track recordings for formal release. Recorded during 1998 and 1999, its eight songs are introduced with "Minen Flats," which in its own way suggests the murky bowed-cymbal drones of Thomas K├Âner at the start more than anything else, though the percussive work here comes from heavily echoed, haunting bells before a toy piano takes the lead melody. That the guitar that does appear is much more buried in the mix seems only appropriate. From there Slate Branches wends an often dark and dank way along, though the atmosphere isn't solely that by any means, as the soaring "As With Praise Itself," with a surging lead melody and bright guitar effects leading the way, and the concluding "Winnowing" demonstrate. Songs like "Cities," with its steady, shuffling percussion and careful, structured guitar parts, suggest what Mirza might have done as an art installation project for modernist architecture. A similar sense of control can be heard on "Casting Locusts," calling to mind the slow descending power of Spacemen 3's cover of Suicide's "Che," but with a background guitar part adding more dreamy swirl to the equation until another turn to a more uplifting, ascending arrangement takes over. Similarly, though more chaotic if subdued arrangements can be heard on "Ink Burned White," though the shift in tempo and tone halfway through changes the song from melancholy to sudden, stirring power in a distinctly Roy Montgomery-influenced style, cool but by no means cold.