Foxhole: Push/Pull
Burnt Toast Vinyl

The Magic Lantern: The Magic Lantern
Burnt Toast Vinyl

Questions in Dialect: The Ghost Wishes to Speak
Burnt Toast Vinyl

Soporus: Atómové Elektrárne
Burnt Toast Vinyl

Now here's a great idea: Burnt Toast Vinyl commissioned four artists—Foxhole, The Magic Lantern, Soporus, and Questions in Dialect—to create LP sides of new music, and then made their material available either as individual CD EPs or as a single, double-vinyl release. Even better, the artists' ambient and post-rock material—whether broached individually or collectively—is superb.

Recorded almost entirely by multi-instrumentalist Phillip Blackwell, Questions in Dialect's On The Ghost Wishes to Speak pays homage to modern composers like Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, and Terry Riley without sacrificing its strong post-rock connection in the process. Built from a rich instrumental palette of synthesizers, strings, vibes, piano, and violin, the six pieces alternate between propulsive drum-driven workouts and through-composed settings of minimalistic, ambient, and avant-garde design—quite an accomplishment for an EP that's only seventeen minutes long. The bright bird-like chirp of a flute melody flutters over a whistling hum of organ swells in the opener “On This Hand” while vibes and strings add an orchestral dimension to the post-rock stylings of “Thought Procession.” The vignette “Blank Staircase” flirts with Penderecki-styled avant-garde abstraction, in contrast to “From a Cloud” which ends the EP beatifically with soft choral voices and Mellotron.

Interestingly, Will Stichter and Matthew Stone connect all four titles on their Soporus (Latin for “to lull to sleep”) release Atómové Elektrárne to nuclear reactors that have experienced accidents (Stone's family lived only five miles away from the Three Mile Island site at the time of the 29 March 1979 incident). Yet surprisingly, the music isn't harrowing or nightmarish but becalmed, even wistful. It's the latter quality that perhaps explains the duo's modus operandi. A photo of a Ferris wheel in post-Chernobyl Pripyat, for example, prompted Stone to evoke the lonely beauty of the deserted locale in his “Pripyat” composition, a poignant meditation that merges acoustic guitar melancholia with the joyous cries of children playing. A similar desolation and grandeur haunts the magisterial “3.29.79” and the other pieces are equally beautiful ambient settings. Blurry layers of heavenly guitars in “Surry II” (a Virginia reactor where workers were scalded to death in 1972 and in 1986) call to mind No Pussyfooting. Naturally, the title reinforces the theme too, as Atómové Elektrárne is the name of the Czech company that opened the nuclear plants in Jaslovské Bohunice , Slovakia .

In its deployment of evocative, long-winded descriptions for its two tracks' titles, The Magic Lantern's self-titled outing calls to mind Godspeed, and the Swedish outfit produces a post-rock that's not wholly unlike its Montreal brethren. “in the wet morning dew with bare feet and an open palm, when the dark clouds gather and the storm is closing in, memento mori” unfolds episodically, opening with a melancholic acoustic section that gradually makes its way towards an aggressive outro. In general, the group—Krister Mörtsell and five others—situates its playing midway between improvisation and compositional structure and admirably eschews abrupt bombast for a considerably more measured, guitar-based approach that still accommodates intense ferocity, as the climax of the opening piece makes clear. While the approach isn't original (it's hardly the first time a group has combined voice samples and post-rock, for example), The Magic Lantern executes its material gracefully enough.

Death inhabits the thematic core of Foxhole's Push/Pull but the music is not only resigned but celebratory too. Aaron Marrs, a high school friend of Foxhole members Derek Holt and Greg Leppert who died when the ship he was working on as a videographer capsized in the Bering Sea, is memorialized by the opening four songs (and referenced by the cover photo) while a delicate interweave of guitar playing in “Song for Wesley” pays homage to the late Wesley Willis. Though “Wake up, Get Dressed, We're Sinking” sonically transcribes Marrs' final moments, the piece isn't a morbid dirge but an inspired guitar showcase that first explodes with energy and then slows to become an elegant, trumpet-led meditation. Foxhole follows it with a raw, searing attack (“Torrents”), a stirring mass (“ Portsmouth ”), and an impassioned, moving tribute (“Forgiving Monarch”). Push/Pull explores loss, regret, joy, and affirmation in its powerful portraits of emotional experience.

May 2007