I cannot stop listening to The Painted Bird / Amidst, a carefully self-released affair that is, without question, the most riveting and enveloping record I’ve reviewed in months. How’s that for a pull quote?
Rachel’s founding members Christian Frederickson and the late Jason Noble are joined by drummer/composer Ryan Rumery for the second installment in The Painted Bird series, a dance performance piece that follows The Painted Bird / BASTARD, on which Frederickson performed largely solo in 2010. Using pre-planned guitar and bass recordings made before Noble’s death in 2012, Frederickson and Rumery have sculpted a 10-track outing that is enigmatic in its simplicity but yet amazingly emotive and present; much like Rachel’s best work, this is post-classical or avant-indie or whatever you want to dub it in the best senses of the words.
The record begins, much like Gastr del Sol’s Upgrade & Afterlife, with what sounds like a sonar’s longing hum (“Slide Show,” mirroring Grubbs and O’Rourke’s “Exquisite Replica”) only to be accented quite subtly with samples before the first “song” proper, “Corridor.” “Corridor” will remind listeners just how much was lost when Noble died of cancer a few years ago. It’s both metronomic and utterly passionate. Like Frederickson at his finest, the lines are clean and seemingly simple but the tone sends the performers into the stratosphere. But Noble’s fingerprints are apparent, and the song – which comes to be propelled, in part, by Rumery’s drumline – echoes Shipping News as much as it does Rachel’s Systems/Layers. (“The Displaced Body,” the record’s most rollicking moment, throbs with aggressive guitars, pounding drums and hypnotic bass in even more of an RMSN vein.) Incredible stuff.
“To Be One of Them,” placed rightly at the record’s center, is breathtaking gossamer, fragile at its heart but achingly well-constructed. There, it’s piano and Frederickson’s viola that share center stage and punch you right in the gut. These guys know what they’re doing. “The Body Carpet” hints at late Talk Talk and the closing “Spaces In Between” reprise ties it all together. Not a dull moment to be had.
Why a label like Karate Body or Temporary Residence didn’t slap this hard on their radar and their release calendar is beyond me. The Painted Bird / BASTARD was an accomplished recording, both at once delicate but firmly performed, but Amidst is a whole other demon, a fine full-band recording that sees this first-time-together trio in amazing and amazingly accessible form. Frederickson, as it were, still currently is performing The Painted Bird live in and outside of NYC. Do yourself a favor: track down the performances. The only thing better than hearing a wondrous indie duo like Frederickson & Noble together again might be hearing Frederickson perform this material in the flesh.