<sup>review:</sup> <em>The Electric Sounds of Far Away Choirs</em>, by Children Of The Wave
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Are we alone in our idea that the compliment “a strong sense of place” is in fact backhanded?
Nearly everyone is fond of the expression. NPR last unpacked it for Scott Colley’s Empire album. Billboard most recently used it to describe Royal Fingerbowl’s lyrics. And BBC allows the term for pretty much anyone.
But if art is at its best when it transcends time, doesn’t it also stand to reason that it should transcend place? Arena rock, club music, and traditional folk genres under every flag: these are highly limited genres with their birthplaces built right into the names. So we’ll take the timeless, the ambiguous, and yes, the stateless, and let Allmusic take the Philip Jeck. All this is to say that Children Of The Wave’s second album The Electric Sounds of Far Away Choirs is timeless, ambiguous, stateless. Without place. Transcendent. And we might all thank them for that. (Oh, and we’ll keep the Philip Jeck, too.)
Far Away Choirs is best when it settles into one of its many grooves: metronomic without lapsing into loops, frothy without sounding muffled. The title track whistles with corrugaphone notes, pulses with djembe strikes, and delights with unadorned guitar, until the promised, remote falsettos show up in delicious abstractness. It’s clear that creators Dan Flynn (Major Chord) and Mark Rayner (Front of Van) know music etiquette well, because they violate pretty much all of it. An early intermission captivates with Geiger counter percussion, an Arabic reed instrument, and a guitar lick reduced to fret noise. Sometime during the upbeat melodica-and-chimes final act, you’ll have to remind yourself that this is all one song. Check that: all one band.
“Come Play Frolic” invites Major Chord alum Kate Connor for Moog and violin, pacing forward with a creepy, synaptic tick-tock and vocals from within the walls. Nice coda, too, what with the coffeeshop guitar, theremin altitude, and snake-charmer violin. If the ocean genesis of “Standing On The Beach At Ponta Del Gada” takes the band name and sound source too literally, try instead the
voice-and-percussion textures of “Home of All the Ideas,” which also features Tim Catlin on a restrained sitar arrangement. Any talk of percussion should continue with “The Full Ecstacy,” a shadowy constellation of a thing that introduces a homemade experimental instrument named The Wang and creates enough space for echoes to sound. Even so, it is trancelike, bathwater-cozy.
You could spend some time pondering the band’s name, especially the last word. Wave, the tides, a fad, a greeting, an overcoming. But consider this one: the wave file. This way the name approximates Children of the MP3, and we can think of no better a reply
to the digitization of music, what with its unlimited supply, infinite genre tags, and codified DNA. Meanwhile The Electric Sounds of Far Away Choirs is that understated rarity: quick to admire, impossible to enunciate.