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THE WIRE'S BEST OF 2010!
While Morse followed traditional avenues of rugged folk narrative tinged w/ psychedelic foxing, Mass is an unchartered, one-way trip through a world of ritual. Broken guitars, percussive loops, backwards tracking, a (home-made) glass harmonium, lullabies, bagpipe thievery & the odd bit of fighting talk are just some of the many bricks laid here. New Zealand’s Alastair Galbraith, while originally coming from the Flying Nun stable of bands, has for many years now been better known for his experimental works, ranging from early folk-derived songs to sound installations and releases with fellow New Zealander Bruce Russell (of Dead C). While 2003’s Radiant showcased long-form avant-garde work, Mass is essentially its opposite. With 22 songs in 42 minutes, Galbraith here shaves things down into rough nuggets of sound. From drones and plucked strings to churning rumbles and metallic clangs, a number of these tracks feel more like excerpts than songs. “Bridge of Burning Bubblegum” lays down scattered guitar notes over layers of rumbling sounds; “Ford K”, with David Kilgour along, bends and echoes guitar notes over waves of drones; “Kakistocracy” oozes eerie vocal sounds amidst distant horns and crackling sounds. The pieces start, sounds come and go – sometimes ominous and sometimes vaguely pretty – and then the pieces end. A few do achieve some sort of cohesive form, often thanks to vocals that, while always altered in some way, still serve to provide a focus. “Trees,” with layers of pretty vocals over buzzing, reversed sounds, is overtly psychedelic, while “Money is So Sad” stands as the most straightforward song, its strummed guitar and relatively ordinary vocal actually rather pretty. One of the longer instrumental tracks, “Like the Bitter Rind of a Cucumber,” offers three-and-a-half minutes of nice, slowly-shifting textural drone. At over five minutes long, “Kyrie Eleison” is by far the longest track. Placed halfway through Mass, it serves as a sort of turning point due to its length, and the weight of its layered drones makes it the album’s centerpiece. The song’s title also gives possible insight into the album as a whole. “Mass,” of course, has multiple meanings, from the one used in physics to the religious connotation, and it is the latter that seems appropriate here. While “Kyrie Eleison” is a Greek phrase predating Christianity, it translates as “Lord have mercy,” and is often used in Christian liturgies directly connected to the Mass. The song’s buzzing and whistling drones reverberate in a way quite reminiscent of a Gregorian chant, given the images evoked by the title. Despite a number of intriguing pieces, though, by the end of the album what’s left is a question: what exactly is this album? It doesn’t provide any connecting thread, any feeling of having progressed to a destination. Ultimately, it feels like a collection of fragments that happen to play in sequence, with little to relate them with one another. While each may be interesting on its own, Mass would mean much more if the pieces were part of a greater whole. - By Mason Jones