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Set Fire to Flames telegraphs in negative/mouths trapped in static Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Second album from Godspeed You! Black Emperor offshoot. Field recordings, goth prog...

Peter Marsh 2002

For this second album, Godspeed You! Black Emperor offshoot/collective Set Fire to Flames intended to take a portable studio setup out on a road trip through Canada, stopping and recording in ancient gas stations and deserted factories. Though they eventually abandoned this as impractical, the idea left its mark.

Like its predecessor, Telegraphs in Negative/Mouths Trapped in Static is an uneasy listen. Dark strings drone away to themselves; we hear someone packing, writing a farewell note, shoving their bags in the boot of a car. Indeterminate insect electronics chatter. An elderly man tells stories of mad horses and eyes that shoot out fire. Creaking improv likea heavily sedated free jazz outfit playing in an ancient submarine. Then suddenly, gentle hymnal guitars and strings offer a sublime, beautiful melody more shocking than any noiseburst; slowly it blossoms into a brief, funereal slice of slo-mo prog rock, then evaporates into gentle mists of reverb...

The 'invisible soundtrack' has become a bit of a cliche of late, and even then it doesn't do justice to the wobbly, grainy ear-cinema that SFF conjure. Over these two CDs they definitely control the horizontal and the vertical, sucking you in to a Twilight Zone of their own peculiar design. Sounds assume a physical presence, even if you can't imagine what's making them half the time. Episodes of barely coherent lo-fi drone resolve into sweet, luminous clouds of strings. Spaces are by turns wide open, intimate, claustrophobic. If Andrey Tarkovsky had directed The Blair Witch Project, this would have been the ideal soundtrack. Towards the end, we hear a moving, strangely stilted phone conversation between two lovers. It breaks off mid sentence; a guitar elegy unfolds over gentle rivers of static. Someone lights a bonfire.

Beautiful, infuriating, sometimes impenetrable, this is an album that pays repeated listening, and requires that you listen hard. Fat Cat (surely one of the UK's most astute, inventive labels) deserve some kind of award for putting thisout. Essential.

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