PopMatters: Short Takes on Archipelago
by D.M. Edwards, popmatters
In the spirit of Jackie-O Motherfucker, Pelt, and Sunburned Hand of the Man, comes Images of Popular Deities. Usually, at each Archipelago session, no one plays the same instrument they usually play. A giant collection of acoustic instruments and exotic noisemakers is used and the occasion is an excuse to play around with the diversity of sound, tonality and rhythm. On the evidence of this disc they deserve a much wider audience (and I don’t mean obese).
Archipelago is a pretty open lineup that has included almost everyone on the Backporch Revolution label. While some members were absent, Images of Popular Deities features: Brian Abbott playing acoustic guitar; Jon Blair on didgeridoo and percussion; Dan Haugh percussion; Potpie turntabling; Gabe Pickard’s cello and vocal work; Alec Vance on melodica, dobro, and guitar; and Jim Yonkus’s upright bass and xylophone. Recording took place in the BPR studio immediately following the insertion of bamboo floors post-Katrina.
All Archipelago songs are improvised, with no rehearsals or second takes. The disc has a flow which it’s easy to get lost in. Of the four pieces, those that work best contain the most space. “God of the Star at the Tip of the Bowl” is a simple yet fine piece for acoustic guitars and xylophone, with added layers of children’s voices reminiscent of the most profound piece of music to come out of New Orleans in the aftermath of the flooding, (Potpie’s “Blues for the Lower 9” from Waterline).
In terms of its title, “Playing Cards Printed with Heroes From Outlaws of the Marsh” could almost have been cut and pasted from the tracklist to Budd & Partridge’s Through the Hill, but it turns out to be an airy and percussive dance in the style of a Moroccan version of Spacemen 3. I think that Gabe Pickard (who produces, choreographs and performs the excellent Confederacy of Dances on an annual basis) contributes some shrieking on this track, and on the final one, “Coalpit Ruled by a Deified Mouse”. Archipelago demonstrate a light touch well-suited to improvisation. The unhurried excavation that is “Opening of the Face” contrasts a claustrophobic quality with the lilting and note-bending sounds of melodica and didgeridoo. Like all of the Backporch Revolution releases, the first limited edition pressing of Images of Popular Deities comes in a lovely handmade sleeve, or is available for download.