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Various Artists Chamber Music (James Joyce) Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Mostly, the music doesn't invoke the time or spirit of Joyce, and usually the...

Martin Longley 2008

Subtitled 'James Joyce (1907). 1-36.', this two-disc concept compilation invites 36 artists to interpret the 36 poems contained in the Irish scribe's first collection, published in 1907. Apparently, Joyce came to think of the chamber of his title as being literally of the enamel pot urine receptacle variety, but these poems actually concern Love, and not from a bawdy standpoint either. All this said, most of the contributors pen their songs in the Grand American Rock Tradition, even if it's alternative, psychedelic or folksy in its trimmings. The small print says that this set is 'Created by James Nicholls', but the small print is also used to virtually conceal the artists names, as though the aim is to view this as an auteur event. The tracks aren't numbered, so close inspection is called for, if the listener is name-spotting. Nicholls is the head honcho of Fire Records, by the way.

It's a bit of a curiosity. Work began in 2003, so it's taken a few years to assemble the contents. Mostly, the music doesn't invoke the time or spirit of Joyce, and usually the all-important words aren't clearly discernible. Just a thought, but the original poems could have been included in a booklet...

War Against Sleep enjoy a Gothic minimalism, with deep vocals and echo-ey piano, whilst Jessica Bailiff conjures up a fittingly ethereal hippy air. Venture Lift, from Woodstock, recall Syd Barrett's version of the 'Golden Hair' segment, and Mary Lorson enunciates clearly from the middle of a chiming field. A few of the acts elect to stage a simple reading, and these evocative cuts by Mercury Rev and Bardo Pond are amongst the best. Even if they're less surprising, their minimalist sonic textures set them apart from their surroundings.

Often, the dreamy turns into the dreary, with hardly a tune in sight. An inconclusive pall hangs over all. Included in this category are REM's Peter Buck (as Minus 5) and Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo (as Text Of Light). Less known souls, such as the Salem eccentrics Airport Studies provide some high points, with an electro-scrabbling fuzz-drift of Ween-ily clumping fragmentation. Or, Duke Garwood's shuffling procession that hints at a taste for Tom Waits and Moondog records, found in the scrap yard.

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