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Systems/Layers Review

by James Christopher Monger

The experimental avant-pop trio Rachel's fifth release is a collaborative dance/theater piece with the New York ensemble Siti Company. The predominantly instrumental Systems/Layers follows eight characters through one day of their lives in the city, relying on urban field recordings and the distinctive subway chamber music of the group to tell these stories. The melancholy strings and plaintive piano on the beautiful "Water From the Same Source" weep with a reverence for their subject that permeates the record as a whole. These mini-films feel like rainy mornings, and the listener can almost smell the diner coffee while hurrying through pockets of cigarette smoke and bakery truck exhaust. The quietly frantic "Arterial" descends into a swirl of spoken billboard ads before replacing its frenzied piano with cellos on the taut "even/odd." Carousels and ice cream trucks provide the backdrop for curbside greetings, and buzzing electrical poles warm pigeons outside the day shelter as the band nears the end of the workday. Imaginary credits roll as the solo piano album closer "NY Snow Globe" gently unlocks the front door of your apartment, leaving a trail of footprints that beg to be retraced. Like David Byrne's underrated orchestral epic The Forest or Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi, Systems/Layers is cerebral and human, transporting you without insulting your intelligence.

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