'Martes' by Murcof, 'Slim westerns vol ll' by A Small Good Thing
by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
Both these CDs share a taste for atmosphere and a connection with the landscape of the western, but have very different takes on this overlapping emotional space. Slim Westerns is the follow up to A Small Good Thing's first volume, released in 1994, and is that most hackneyed of concepts, a soundtrack for an imaginary movie. Far too often this boils down to a get-out clause for the musicians - if the music doesn't stand alone too well, hey, it's really supposed to go with a movie - it'd work there, but there's no movie to actually test this against. Here, though, the music is capable of standing on its own two feet. Intended as the musical score for the mythical adventures of an outlaw by the name of Gerry Melody, related in the accompanying 12-page fake western novel, it draws on the iconography of half-remembered movies, TV westerns and the literary landscapes of Richard Brautigan, Flannery O'Connor and other writers of the purple sage. The sound is edgy, elegiac, expectant, and a dry ambient evocation of a legend-soaked landscape. To do this it draws heavily on the works of Ennio Morricone, Andrea Badalamenti, Ry Cooder's 'Paris, Texas' soundtrack and just about anyone else who has ever tried to conjure the deserts of the American west through music. Pleasant though this is to listen to, it is here that the music's main failing lies. It is very much a sum of its influences and does not take the language of music for westerns anywhere new. It is a talented pastiche, with its tongue ever so slightly in its cheek and a feeling of inauthenticity hangs around it. There is not the absolute certainty of execution that marks out someone at home with a genre, it feels like the work of people outside looking in, adopting the trappings and tropes of a music without actually inhabiting its psychic space.
As ASGT consists of a film editor from London, a gas fitter from Hull and a psychiatric nurse from Leeds, it is not entirely surprising they come over as outsiders to the American West. Fernando Corona, on the other hand, who recorded as Murcof, is very much at home in this kind of landscape, born just over the border in Tijuana, Mexico, he has spent his life in the kind of landscape ASGT are trying to evoke, and brings elements of it into his music, such as the strange, UFO-haunted Rumorosa Mountains depicted on the cover. To do this, though, he reaches out the opposite way to ASGT. No spaghetti western stylings here, instead he has incorporated classical influences and string sounds from European emotional minimalists such as Arvo Päaut;rt and Henryk Gorecki. Carefully deployed to maximum effect, atmospheric strings, piano and minimal vocals create a mysterious atmosphere, which maintains an effortless grace and spirituality throughout, paired with low key micro-house beats and subtle electronics. The music evokes open cliche-free spatial clarity and radiates a confident strength missing from the ASGT CD. For a debut album, Martes is astonishingly confident and self-assured and a very classy piece of work indeed.