Theo Bleckmann / Joseph Branciforte

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LP1 Review

by John D. Buchanan

Despite a 20-odd-year career in music, with accomplishments as a recording engineer, composer, and performer (in the "garage-chamber" ensemble the Cellar and Point), Joseph Branciforte has never released a solo album. (Technically this is not a solo album either, but it's the closest he has yet come.) While early, naïve experiments had a prog-jazz flavor, and the Cellar and Point's Ambit an avant-rock sound, this album is a distinctly different proposition. Reflecting Branciforte's long-held love for the "lower-case" electronica of labels like Line and 12k, this collaboration with esteemed jazz vocalist Theo Bleckmann is a soothing, minimalist, ambient work consisting of four long, improvisatory tracks recorded whilst in rehearsals for a concert with Ryuichi Sakamoto. Bleckmann's is a subliminal presence; if he weren't credited, you'd at times be hard-pressed to realize there was a vocalist singing on the album at all. There's a process-generated feel throughout, as the tracks unfurl in a languid, nonlinear fashion. In opener "6.15," high-pitched, wordless vocalizations reverberate airily as though in the vaults of a great cathedral, atop glassine tones and crispy clicks and pops. Subliminal sub-bass and minor-key close harmonies bring a faintly sinister edge. The processed vocal sounds at the start of "3.4.26" sound like a woodwind instrument or an exotic bird before turning into a whispering breeze that swirls ominously in the background. As the piece goes on, the ringing tones take on a tape-warped feel, as though the whole is decaying before your ears. "4.19" is the track with the deepest feeling of calm and serenity. Close your eyes and you're in Blade Runner, watching neon flashes in the dark through a soundproof skyscraper window. Bleckmann coos breathily as microsonic clicks, rustles, and pops percolate in the background. The deep bass tones that start "5.5.9" sound somewhat like a cello and bring a dark feel to the proceedings, with a slight jazzy edge faintly reminiscent of Kreng's early work for Miasmah. It's the album's most deeply sinister track; as it goes on, the bass tones take on the aura of tolling bells, which, together with creaking cellos and dripping water sounds, take you down into the crypt. Bleckmann's voice once again floats in the background; for a short while you can tell that, unlike on the other tracks, he's singing actual words, but it's impossible to make out what they are -- possibly they are in Latin, adding to the liturgical feel. The record as a whole is relaxing and calm, beautiful and beguiling, but ever with a sense of foreboding, as though something waits in the shadows just off to one side. It's an excellent album, and a very strong start for Branciforte's Greyfade label. Very much in the vein of modern classics by Richard Chartier, Taylor Deupree, Illuha, and Between, LP1 should appeal strongly to fans of the aforementioned labels, but it does have its own distinct sonic identity, thanks in no small part to Bleckmann's contribution.

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