Saturday, June 30, 2012

CD Review: Alexander Tucker - Third Mouth

Alexander Tucker
Third Mouth
(Thrill Jockey)

When I reviewed Alexander Tucker's album Dorwytch nearly a year ago (see post on July 6, 2011), it struck me not only because I was expecting something a little more along the lines of, uh, traditional warped pop, but also because what he actually created was a very dense, churning sound often built around simple vamps. That latter point ultimately created some interesting textures but often brought the music down because too many of the songs sounded undeveloped, with instruments just piled onto a spare framework. (Tucker has been doing this rather prolifically since the early '00s, but this was my first introduction to him.)

On Third Mouth this English bard for the new millenium sounds more focused. Things are as spacey as ever, but there's more direction to these tracks. As a vocalist, Tucker evokes Robert Wyatt, with a high tenor that has a lot of impact even if the words aren't immediately discernable. Acoustic guitars provide the foundation of many tracks with cellos and keyboards filling things out, with backwards electric guitars and other effects added for finishing touches.

The combination makes a song like "The Glass Axe" sound like a subdued prog rock, playing for the first few minutes on a haunting droney riff, only to shift midway into a different section where guitar, keys and vocals move together on the melody. "Window Sill" also has a lot of  strings and accented acoustic guitar picking, before it collapses into a sound collage of droning keyboards and found sounds that might be clocks, dripping water and chimes. Later on "Amon Hen," he branches out into territory that recalls Tom Waits, courtesy of some scraping guitar noise and saxophones that don't comfortably fit with the surroundings but still manage to complement them.

"Andromeon" follows "Window Sill," turning up the volume a bit to make things a bit more dynamic. Like a couple previous tracks, Tucker begins playing a slow waltz, this time with wall of droning guitars (electric, this time) and cellos. The vocals get doubled with two voices singing within an octave of each other, again sounding like Wyatt in his prime prog era. Rather than giving in to the temptation to let the music rise like tidal wave and slowly ebb, the song lasts just over three minutes, hitting hard and stopping before it can wear out its welcome.

That is probably the strongest qualities on Third Mouth. Tucker never lets things carry on too long. "Amon Hen" and "Sitting on a Bardo Pond" (the latter a tongue-in-cheek homage to that band) are under two minutes, acting more as interludes. Most of the songs last somewhere between three and four minutes and when "The Glass Axe" does push seven, it's with good reason as it has two distinct parts. The closing "Rh" also lasts as long but it's going for a loopy, trance feel anyway so it serves its purpose. This sense of economy departs from Dorwytch which seems to take its time getting to where it wanted to go. Dreamscapes can be cool but it feels like Tucker realized that he doesn't need to stop and survey everything as he rolls along, and the album is all the better for it.

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