The Remote Viewers

Sinister Heights

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Sinister Heights confirms the transformation witnessed on Control Room, the five-CD set that preceded it. For the first time on record, Control Room had pictured the Remote Viewers as an entity that could take various shapes beside the trio format that had persisted for over a decade. While one of the five discs did feature the avant-cabaret noir trio of David Petts, Louise Petts, and Adrian Northover, the focus clearly rested on the two men's large-scale compositions. Sinister Heights reaffirms this new direction. Singer Louise Petts is gone. The quirky-velvety covers are gone, too. The music is now entirely instrumental and best described as post-RIO contemporary music. Or avant-meta-jazz with a chamber music basis. Or…OK, it cannot be described easily. The saxophones still provide the core of the music, and there is often a bunch of them, up to six, stacking notes into dissonant chords -- a distinctive trait of the Remote Viewers if they ever had one. The writing draws a lot from dark contemporary classical music, but the British free improvisation scene looms close by (and improvisers John Edwards, Adam Bohman, Steve Noble, Caroline Kraabel, and Dave Tucker, among others, all play a part in this particular incarnation of the Remote Viewers). And there is an obligatory reference to be made to the darker avant-garde chamber rock ensembles of the late '70s, namely Univers Zero and Art Zoyd. Northover and David Petts have developed a very dark and cold style of composition, strikingly efficient, able to groove ("Souls and Cities," "Sinister Heights," "Vixenville"), but also capable of complex, Kafkaian constructions ("Villages Drowned by the Sea," "Black Thoughts in a Black Mood"). And in the Remote Viewers, complexity does not exclude a certain form of minimalism -- starkness would be the right word, actually. The starkness of a coldly designed city eerily quiet at night. Presented as two separate CDs (Time Flats and Mirror Meanings), one more beat/chamber rock-oriented, the other more experimental/contemporary classical-focused, Sinister Heights still has the feel of a transitional album, mostly because of the revolving cast of guests, but it is definitely less a hodgepodge and overall stronger than Control Room. This band has dropped its avant-cabaret recipe (which had grown a bit too comfortable in the end) and succeeded in reinventing itself without jettisoning its unique personality.

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