The Iditarod

The River Nektar

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The production on the Iditarod's 1998 debut is sparser than it would evolve into by the time of their The Ghost, the Elf, the Cat, and the Angel four years later. Yet the approach is the same: minimal, spooky folk-psych-pop featuring Carin Wagner's tremulous vocals, mystically tinged words suggesting a fragile pastoralism, and overall establishing the mood of walking through an enchanted but haunted forest. Though the backing is dominated by acoustic guitar, it's augmented by weird touches such as violin-like drones, eerie slide, disconsolate tambourine rattles, effects that sound like wind and dog barks through a white-noise filter, thunderstorm prattles, and chirping birds. It's music for the slow hours and solitary places, for sure, Wagner's voice sometimes faltering as though she's afraid of waking the neighbors. On one of the more disquieting cuts, "Boat," her quivering lead is doubled by another voice (hers?), faintly in the background, that sounds like a woman on the verge of a low-key nervous breakdown. The 2003 CD reissue adds nine bonus tracks from out of print singles and outtakes, similar to those on the proper album but sometimes a little more lo-fi (and occasionally live, if the low-volume crowd noise on some tracks is an accurate indication). Most of the bonus material presents songs not on the album in any form, with the exception of a live version of "Boat" and an "original version" of "Garden"; also among the bonus cuts are covers of Donovan's "The Lullaby of Spring" and Brian Eno's "The Fat Lady of Limbourg."

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