All Behind the Witchtower

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Having created one exquisite psych/drone/Krautrock masterpiece with I Can't Believe It's Not Reggae!, Ectogram turned right around and made another with the mighty fine All Behind the Witchtower. Dylan lyrical jokes aside, it's an involving collection of songs that again finds the trio working with a wide variety of instruments and approaches to create a sometimes-dreamy, sometimes-fierce listen. When the three fire up the motorik-via-Can trance jams, as the title song and "Seven Ugly Men" or, in a calmer but still compelling way, "Caught on By" show, the members' ears for not simply re-creating Tago Mago or the like comes through big time. Ann Matthews' singing once more is an exquisite and strong part of the presentation, her vocals sometimes eerily floating through the mix as a half-heard call ("Cubeful," with its backwards loops and zoned-out guitar solos, is a captivating instance of the contrast). Her more direct turns are no less fine -- "Salted Blow" is almost playful in the chorus, though not in a goony indie pop way. "Scratch" ranks up there as one of the more threatening, uneasy rock songs recorded at the turn of the millennium, with (presumably) Alan Holmes' bass and Maeyc Hewitt's drums locking into a doom-laden, nervous pulse and crawl that's halfway to early Comsat Angels, say. Matthews' whispered vocals, moaning keyboards, and edgy, fingernails-down-chalkboard guitars just increase the slowly ascending tension. Less openly nervy but still weirdly off-kilter is "Rose," subtle feedback shimmer and sparkling keyboards contributing to the high-pitched haze of the arrangement (as does Matthews' voice itself at times). The quarter-hour "Spitsbergen 5," a sequel to an earlier EP on the Ochre label, ends everything with a near-perfect psych loop head-nodder, processed feedback leading the way. Guest roles include Gorky's Zygotic Mynci refugee John Lawrence on pedal steel guitar and, intriguingly enough, noted U.K. rock crit Jon Savage doing spoken word on the title track.

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