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Published: 2004/06/30
by Jesse Jarnow

self-titled – The Mystic Chords of Memory

Rough Trade 06706-83236-2
With an idyllic looking liner photograph of a sun-drenched forest mountainscape, home recording vibe, and credit for a studio in Brookdale, California, the self-titled debut from Mystic Chords of Memory is exactly the kind of album that one can easily imagine being made in a cluttered moss-covered cabin somewhere deep in the redwoods near Santa Cruz. Created by former Beachwood Sparks member Chris Gunst and Jen Cohen of the Aislers Set, Mystic Chords of Memory is filled with an earthy psychedelic folksiness. Quiet vocals (mixed only just enough above the sound canopy) resound amidst a teeming buzz of bells, melodica, and soft ‘n’ jangly guitar melodies.
"Like A Lobster" seems to be indicative of the album’s temper. The easy-going acoustic guitar strumming is genuinely relaxed and not merely lite. The lyrics, which appear to be about some kind of "I am the Walrus"/mind-body intereaction with, um, a lobster, are playful and funny and earnest without becoming gratuitously silly. But what takes the cake is the arrangement. Abetting the guitars are, at first, bells. (Of course.) After that, though, the song changes scenes, so to speak, into what sounds like a field recording of crying seagulls and gently lapping waves (acoustic guitars, too). It’s beautiful. Scott Coffey’s violin rises above, and glides the song back into the chorus. The song is cinematic without being abrupt, and really moves well during its four-and-a-half minute duration.
Very occasionally, the duo mistakes a drone for a melody, such as "Open End," and Gunst’s high-pitched vocals becomes cloying. Even when they do this, they are rarely grating, if only because of their placement in the mix. Any higher (throughout, actually) and the whole album could easily collapse under the weight of Gunst’s vocal style. He sings in the nasally pinched upper register whisper that is common on this kind of album. It is a mangled croon, of sorts, seemingly derived from Neil Young, though grown and mutated far beyond Young’s own tenderness. In any event, it lends a lullabaic quality to much of the disc, making it the perfect soundtrack for a stoned nap on a cool summer afternoon.

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