Beginning in 1997, cassettes, 7"s, and various small-scale releases began circulating in incredibly small underground circles from the curiously titled musical entity Amps for Christ, each with similar scrawled drawings of winged guitars or sketched-out nature scenes. The sounds contained on these releases were just as mysterious as their cloudy origins, traditional folk modes played through homemade stringed instruments and noisy electronics, all crafted by Henry Barnes, onetime member of Man Is the Bastard, a hardcore act so brutally sludgy they coined the term "power violence" to describe their sound. These facts sounded fictitious enough as they were, but that Amps for Christ's lengthy, sometimes cryptic liner notes and occasional lyrics seemed to be earnestly begging their listeners to look toward an ecologically conservative, Christian-leaning lifestyle put the group in a class completely unto themselves. Barnes issued scads of largely obscured recordings over the next many years, seemingly content to create his peerless music in relative anonymity. Canyons Cars and Crows represents the first collection of completely singular Amps for Christ material in eight years, with a 2012 collaboration with bearded indie folk collective Woods and 2006's Every Eleven Seconds being the most recent offerings resembling proper full-lengths. Coming from such a place of completely insular creation, it's not surprising how little has changed about Barnes' approach to the truly unique project. The cover art still depicts trees and a flying guitar; the album sees release on Shrimper, the label that issued hand-dubbed cassettes of the first AFC tape 17 years prior; and the sounds are still wrung out of the homemade oscillators, sitars, and unnameable instruments of Barnes' workshop. Noisier interpretations of traditional Celtic folk show up on "Chieftains II" and "Scottish Country Dance." When Barnes sings, the message still leans toward radical environmental politics, with warnings of big cities being submerged in water due to global warming on "Barely Breathe" and the dangers of cars and their violent effects on the planet on "Everyone Drives." Though the changes to sound and approach are minimal, that's not to say Canyons Cars and Crows is without progress. Easily one of his more cohesive sets of songs, the album also finds Barnes decades into his craft with the indie world around him just recently catching up to his shut-in sounds. It's the best place for the uninitiated to jump in, and will provide lots to love for those already familiar with the weird, beautiful world of Amps for Christ.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas