A Slow Messe

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This ambitious project, featuring members of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, is the brainchild of lead vocalist and songwriter Scott Chernoff. After an eerie windswept instrumental opening in "Desole," "Valley Song" is a lovable acoustic ballad that immediately brings to mind Roger Waters singing on Pink Floyd's The Final Cut. Accompanied by violins and various strings, the sparse arrangements are gorgeous almost to a fault. Interspersed throughout the album are brief but alluring instrumentals, including "Dans une Maison Croulante" and the swampy bayou sound of "Whitman County Revisited." A folk structure blends effortlessly with a larger orchestral sound on "Insomnia," but the song seems underdeveloped. Some moments are simply spine-tingling, with "Whitey Blues" inviting the listener in via cello, viola, and a series of guitars played with precision. With a Daniel Lanois production quality, it's best heard with either Surround Sound or headphones. Chernoff thrives on topics such as isolation, despair, and hopelessness. Yet musically, there is a great amount of hope communicated. "Death March (Erskine's Theme)" is such an example, as a jug band vibe engulfs the song. A dirge quality starts off "Killing Lucy Stone" and never evolves into much more. The second disc gets off to a similar start, although "Delirium Rag" tends to be experimental, bordering on psychedelic in spots. It's also the first instance where Godspeed You Black Emperor! has a direct influence on the tone. "Silkworm" is perhaps the noisiest track, as morphine and clouds are discussed over guitars and improvised horns. Chernoff delivers his finest performance on the heartfelt Celtic-tinged "Astree," breathing the lyrics as much as singing them. But as the album concludes, songs such as "Chinatown No. 33" don't pack the same punch. A tad more editing would have empowered this album greatly.

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