This Sentence Is True

Sheila Chandra

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This Sentence Is True Review

by Thom Jurek

Sheila Chandra and longtime partner Steve Coe put their Ganges Orchestra back together to come up with an experimental album that in many ways is not so experimental. Certainly among Chandra's earlier recordings such as Roots and Wings and Zen Kiss pointed in this direction, but the feel of this recording is so much looser than anything she has done previously. For the most part, it's a sidestep away from the pure drones and classical traditions she's been experimenting with for the past ten years. There are lyrics both recited and sung, and there are Indian classical forms based on just intonation. Production is spare but ever-present; the gurgling percussion, long open organ tones, bubbling oceans, whispered lyrics, and sung drones on "Sentence" are captivating and provocative. At any moment you expect the track to just break out into a heavy rhythmic workout, but it never happens. And in that restraint and tension lies the beauty. The radical rhythmic linguistic exercise of "Is" in all its brevity opens to an extended drone and subtle scratchy percussion that opens onto a field of distortion before harsh industrial sounds crash into the ambience and the drone is cut off mid-tone. Synthed-out rhythms and guitars layered with mandolins in the middle of the mix become their own linguistic exercise in sonic texture and color; just before the track ends, the non-language in Chandra's single voice, nearly scatting, forces it all into silence. The most challenging and rewarding thing here is "Abonecronedrone7," something left over from that album that didn't fit stylistically: harmonium, bagpipes, and other tonal instrumentation are laid down as a shimmering, perpetually shifting foundation for Chandra's drones. In short and long phrases, she seeks, within the pre-created semitonal strategy, a way of sifting through them, middling, as it were between one set of notes and its accompanying microtones, then gradually elongating them until the voice "disappears" into the drone. It's stunningly beautiful in its nearly 16-minute journey. The only weird thing on the record, though it's drop-dead gorgeous, is her singing "Es Spiritus Sanctus" on "True." Using a classical Indian form and time signature, she creates a nine-minute confusion as the classical signature gives way to distortion, flanges, feedback, and heavy vocal effects, making for an enormous dynamic shift but little else. Ultimately, this feels like the thing she says it is in the liner notes: an album made inadvertently. Most of it is so loose, so mysterious and seemingly shapeless it just disappears. She furthers this perception by writing extensive liner notes that cover each nuance in every track; she explains away the entire recording -- perhaps because of a lack of faith in its esthetic value. This Sentence Is True is a curiosity piece, a stopgap it seems, until her next "real" record.

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