Charalambides

A Vintage Burden

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Anybody looking for the physically visceral side of Charalambides -- as was displayed at Terrastock 6 -- should listen elsewhere. Vintage Burden is a collection of quietly psychedelic minimal guitar and vocal songs. It is among the most tender, fragile, and spiritually savvy records out there, and coming as it does from the undisputed parents of the acid folk subculture (can't call it "underground" anymore; it's too popular), that's saying something. Christina Carter has always been a skeletal poet in her lyrics, one to ask questions without worrying about answering them. The set opens with "There Is No End," a metaphysical meditation on the eternal on which Christina and Tom Carter play guitars that are so steady, slowly developing, and ever present that they sound like loops. There is a strange love triangle afoot, one that is existential and spiritual, one that is physical, projected, and yearned for, and perhaps dismissed. "Spring" has slippery, whisperingly bright textures of detuned guitar and lap steel, with Christina's vocals just hovering there, framing it all and asking for motion, for exploration, for the step in faith to encounter mystery and magic beyond death and grief. The guitar textures don't float so much as shimmer -- studied, spatial, and above all subtle -- never intruding but painting the picture the protagonist is singing about in sound. There is one long instrumental on the set, Tom's "Black Bed Blues," which comes from out of the west Texas desert and slips itself onto the train tracks to the Mississippi Delta, all through the circular force of repetition. There's this gauzy feel throughout, but his bottleneck and lap steel playing give it a weighty undertow for all its trippiness, and the chord shapes in the middle of the track -- meeting the parceled-out single notes -- are killer. It never quite screams, but lends itself the possibility throughout and gets damn close. It's answered by the near stumbling grace of "Two Birds," nearly 13 minutes long, where Christina's vocals and guitars take the tune to some strange country music wasteland before it all beings to ring and chime together, all those strings answering her voice as she sings "There is nothing for me to know/There is no need to struggle...." As the tension becomes something that unravels itself into something nearly transcendent, the tune changes and Tom plays a beautifully distorted, droning, and biting solo -- in the style of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" -- for a few minutes, and when the song's narrative returns and she begins singing again, it's from a place of arrival rather than traveling or observing. Vintage Burden is among the most beautiful, subtle, and moving records this band has ever made.

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