reviewed by Chris Matei
As a meeting of two of the Vancouver area’s most eclectic musical minds (the lush, distorted soundscapes of Crystal Dorval, aka. White Poppy, and gritty punkers Nu Sensae’s Brody McKnight), this one-off live set, captured on cassette tape, brings some serious prog-experimental-noisey-ambient weight.
Distilled into a single, sprawling 55-minute track for digital download, the album such as it is immediately announces a degree of difficulty that might turn away all but the most adventurous sonic explorers. However, diving into the morass of swooning theremin-like sounds, feedback, demonic fuzz squalls, growling metallic plates, whalelike blips and Sunn O))) -style monastic drones reveals a thoughtfulness and emotional complexity lurking in the hissing dark corners of White Poppy & Gretchen Snakes. The result doesn’t really compare to anything either of these artists have released in their previous bodies of work, but as a collaborative experiment it has borne some very strange fruit.
WP&GS brings Mark Z. Danielewski’s epically dense novel House of Leaves to mind: an eccentric, footnote-riddled tale of stories within stories, founded on the chilling fear of a yawning, snarling, insidious, pitch-black maze-cum-void that simply will not be explained by rational means. Much like that novel’s titular house, the almost entirely instrumental album shifts and reconfigures itself around the listener/explorer, always dragging them in just a bit deeper, transitioning unexpectedly from claustrophobic to vast and alien, resisting categorization and quantification. The contrast of the music with its cover art, depicting a childlike stick figure drawing of the artists, is almost head-shakingly absurd.
Over the course of the record’s obsidian prog odyssey, the duo behind the controls wring a startling number of textures – some tortured, some strangely idyllic – from their instruments. The effect is largely one of a strange competition between the meditative and the anxious sides of your brain. It’s definitely not a record for everyone, but it makes a case for casting your single beam of light down into the darkness and trying to see what’s lurking there.
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)