Monday, March 23, 2009

Common Eider, King Eider, Figs, Wasps, and Monotremes, Root Strata, 2008

The cover of Figs, Wasps, and Monotremes, Rob Fisk’s second offering under the Common Eider, King Eider moniker, presents the outline of a corpulent fig, cross-sectioned to reveal a hidden kaleidoscope of seeds. Fisk’s music has always meshed beautifully with his visual practice, but this image is a particularly apt metaphor for his sound: delicate and linear, but with shocks of wild profusion.

Figs, Wasps, and Monotremes is melodic drone at its loveliest, and is singular for being built primarily upon the manifold voices of a viola, bowed and plucked. Rusty tremolos, twinkling pizzicato runs, and grinding held notes slide over one another like tectonic plates, throwing out microtonal beats as fallout. The fine line between “in tune” and “out of tune,” “in time” and “off”, is the site where most of the action on the album takes place, and this logic carries over to all of its other elements: voice, piano, guitar.

None of the album’s eight tracks are “songs,” per se, but they are always flirting with the rules of pop musical seduction. Fisk’s feminine falsetto sketches out tentative melody lines that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Goblin soundtrack, buoyed by an occasional choir (also Fisk) of tenor and bass. The guitar solo, climax par excellence, dies and reincarnates itself in deranged bursts of noise, sometimes dialoguing with Fisk’s fragile melodies, sometimes swallowing them whole.

Fisk’s album is not with out its fair share of skronky, rambling drone, and the textures and flyaway tones he is able to pull out of his instruments are highlights in their own right. Even at their most unfocused, however, Fisk’s compositions always eventually reveal themselves to be governed by a kind of higher logic. Bowed viola drones of every possible color and value layer into the sound an orchestra tuning up before the curtain rises—only to turn transform into a “refrain” in its own right when the choir girls (Fisk again) chime in.

Figs, Wasps, and Monotremes may be more humble than it is monumental, but it is a joy of an album, and sets the bar high for musicians interested in drone as a musical building block—not as an academic pursuit.

Words: Emilie Friedlander

Originally published on Foxy Digitalis, Winter 2009

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