Slow, pensive, immaterial: those are the words coming to mind when listening to And the Black Moths Play the Grand Cinema. First released by Ritornell in 2000 and reissued by Staubgold four years later, this album consists of a single anti-epic 40-minute piece. Dean Roberts' guitar provides the backbone of the piece, but all around it instruments come in and out, move about, disappear on the threshold of audibility, and then trade places with one another. Percussion (mostly hi-hats, a favorite apparatus in Roberts' set-up), piano, viola, organ, harmonium, cello, bass and various forms of analog and digital processing shape the delicate textures and evanescent grooves of the album. Whenever singing is involved (three or four times over the course of the set, sometimes in very short bursts), Roberts delivers his lyrics in a murmur, as if he was aiming for the ghost of a song format. Supporting Roberts are Tim Barnes, Charles Curtis and Matt Valentine. Curtis' cello is the easiest contribution to pinpoint, his creative textural playing providing highlights at various points throughout the piece. The artwork lists seven titles, but these are barely indications, as the piece itself is presented in a continuous flow, without even movements being detectable. The trading of hi-hats between Barnes and Roberts and the very discreet role of Barnes' drumming keep the piece in a state of quiet indecision and stasis, while the other instruments clearly indicate a strong level of planning and songwriting. But this songwriting has the piece slowly revolving around the listener without taking him or her someplace else. It exists and it lingers, ever-refining its textures but never expanding on its initial proposal -- "The Fake and Detached," after which everything has been said and done. This opener is also the closest we get to a bona fide song. And the Black Moths Play the Grand Cinema offers a mesmerizing listen and establishes a very singular atmosphere, but it is as if the music comes from another plane of existence and is refusing to materialize (or is prevented from materializing) into our plane -- which will be frustrating to some listeners.
AllMusic Review by François Couture