Saturday, October 2, 2010

Funeral Mariachi / Ritual Nova

Okay, I'm being a bit of a fanboy here, considering how the majority of my posts have something to do with the Sun City Girls, but you'll have to bear with me one more time.

Funeral Mariachi is the long-awaited "last official" Sun City Girls album, meaning that it was in the working stages before the death of Charles Gocher and the subsequent demise of SCG. It does, as a whole, dwell in the melancholy air suggested by its title and occasion.

Most of the commentary revolves around how "accessible" and "beautiful" this album is, and that thought is not wrong. Unlike most other SCG albums, Funeral Mariachi is significantly worked over in the studio, and as such, it is the most finished sounding SCG album. "Accessible" and "finished", however, don't mean timid, and there is still plenty experimentation going on here . . . though, unlike most SCG releases, the experimentation seems to be contained by the record, instead of trying to explode from the inside as per usual. The result is dense, active, and atmospheric. I haven't put the headphones to this yet, but that should prove interesting.

As with mariachi, there is a heaviness, almost a sadness, that underlies the proceedings. Side one relies on the familiar SCG ethno-pastiche, spatially spread out and polished like never before. Side two is heavily dependent on their interpretation of Ennio Morricone, and, in fact, contains a Morricone cover . . . which, interestingly enough, I can't pick out of the other songs, even though I am familiar with both Morricone and SCG.

The album, overall, is a somber and fitting coda to the Sun City Girl's body of work. It is impossible to find the essence of SCG on one release, and this one is no different. Given its finish, Funeral Mariachi is a good place to start with the band, though Torch of the Mystics is just as accessible and a little livelier. If you are looking for a deep, layered, riveting, moody record, this is one to pick up.

* * * * *

The ear and mind of Boris Kovac must be the proverbial sponge. He soaks up the ethnic sounds of his native Serbia and surrounding areas, cuts them in with modern compositional tropes and techniques, and produces a work that is austere, atmospheric, and avant-garde, but still quite listenable.

Ritual Nova takes ethnic music as source material, and builds compositions with nods different 20th Century schools of musical thought (minimalism, atonality, repetition, etc.). The thing that makes this unique, other than its idiosyncratic ethnicity, is the almost pop sensibility that underlies all these pieces. For all of its "difficult listening" pedigree, this is a uniquely listenable record . . . fans of Fred Frith, the Art Bears, Henry Cow, the Residents, the soprano saxophone, or any 20th Century classical music should check this out.