Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Windy & Carl - Songs for the Broken Hearted (***1/2)

Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren have spent the last 15 years searching endlessly (and occasionally aimlessly) for the perfect drone. The ambient duo - who also happen to be a couple (more on that later) - came frighteningly close to achieving their goal a number of times in the late 90s, specifically on the centerpiece tracks of back-to-back minor classics Antarctica & Depths. That was Phase 1 of Windy & Carl, pre-2001 when they had a nice, one-album-per-year average. Following a three year hiatus which saw contemporaries (think Stars of the Lid specifically) usurp much of the glory and acclaim that the duo never fully received, Windy & Carl unassumingly reemerged with Dream House/Dedications to Flea, a welcome return that saw the group paying respects to their recently deceased dog. Not the most heart string-pulling of sentiments I realize, but Windy & Carl have a way with sound so unique and yearning that they could make even the titular Flea something of a universal pet. Two years later and we have Songs for the Broken Hearted, an epic, 70+ minute record that intertwines Windy & Carl's drifting guitar drones amongst comparatively shorter, pop based ambient tracks.

With regards to early Windy & Carl, there wasn't much in the way of vocals to latch onto between the oceanic walls of sound. Their later material did however tend to scatter a few vocal lines beneath the blankets of sound waves. Appropriately, Songs for the Broken Hearted, which documents the couple's declining relationship over the last couple years (they've been married 19), features the most substantial use of vocals yet. Five of the ten tracks here utilize the human voice, lending added weight to songs that can at times stretch achingly long. These aren't pop songs by any means, but the low frequency vocals provide guide posts between the more formless, predictably lush drone-based tracks.

These long form instrumental drone comprise the majority of the record (most run between 9 and 13 minutes in length), yet it's these pieces which provide a much needed breather between the more intimate tracks. "La Doluer", the longest single piece here, segues unconsciously from opener "Btwn You + Me", flicking waves of static and feedback around bright guitar tones. Along with the ambiguous yet beautiful closing track, "The Same Moon and Stars", it stands as one of Windy & Carl Mk. II's most distinctive ambient works. Despite it's lengthy run time and almost subconsciously subtle vocal tracks, Songs for the Broken Hearted stands apart from much of Windy & Carl's prior work, if only because of it's unified theme and increased reliance on vocals. It's not easiest or most hopeful of albums to listen to, but think what it must have been like to record.

Highlights: "Btwn You + Me", "La Doluer", "My Love", "The Same Moon and Stars"

"My Love"

No comments: