Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: DM Stith - Heavy Ghost (Asthmatic Kitty)


Forget tincture of henbane or other such homeopathic nonsenses. As far as I know, there is but one universally agreed and empirically proven method of inducing witch-hood: you must first fetch yourself to a local churchyard, preferably on All Hallows night, then you walk widdershins thrice round the church. You should find, crouched athwart a tombstone, the Devil, most likely in his cankerous black frog form (try again if he’s not there. Any multiple of three ought to work). Close your eyes and kiss those puckered amphibian lips, and Bob’s your... well, in fact he’s no longer your uncle but a happy reminder of the mortal world you’ve just left behind. Old Nic has transformed you into a weird sister, no strings attached. For the rest of your natural life, you'll enjoy trouble-free naked cavorting with the Great Goat himself, drinking the blood of virgins whenever you’re in the mood and generally having amazing witchy larks. One word of advice: steer clear of any local folk who invite you to their barbecue.

The real centrepiece of a witch’s life, leaving to one side for the moment the business with the broomsticks, is the coven, which is really just a chance for you to let your copious and surely jet-black hair down. As with weddings or Bar Mitzvahs, the difference between a desultory gathering and a hot diabolical shindig often comes down to the tunes. Many's the virgin about to be rent by the Knife of Kris who's suddenly had to halt proceedings to get Girls Aloud off the stereo. Avoiding such faux pas is all important to a well-done blood rite. And that’s where Heavy Ghost comes in.

Perfect for any self-respecting middle-class sacrificial rite or suburban satanic mass, Heavy Ghost is a lurid and sulphurous album brew, rich with the tang of forgotten magiks. You can practically taste the eye of newt.

Twitching the strings at the centre of this antic puppet-show is DM Stith, an acolyte of Sufjan Stevens. Stith has clearly learnt at the feet of his master. But Stith takes Steven’s sacred patterns and inverts them. He’s more the mysterious gardener coaxing and training the tendrils of his organic sound until you’re listening to a wall of hawthorn festooned with poison berries, the nests of strange birds with human voices and impossibly thorny branches. Seriously.

DM Stith's sweet voice hangs entranced at the centre of these songs and keeps them from flying off into chaos. "Heavy Ghost", for instance, is a messy bricolage of voices that knit together creating drifting clouds of harmony and sunshine, flying free in the way only messy bricolages can. "Braid of Voices" shows the trick, or the art, to best effect: minimal song structure, numinous chords, reverent chanting, building up wizard-you-will-not-PASS-style, before winding away into a scary nowhereness. It's The Drift reimagined by Jeff Buckley. (The resurrected corpse thereof).

If you like Radiohead's “We Suck Young Blood”, you'll like this. It has all that song's claustrophobia and stem-wound complexity. Also the airlessness and lack of obvious feeling. What's powerful here comes mainly from the sense of a spell cast; once it's all over and you're back blinking in the daylight, you can’t quite remember the structure of the experience. Then you notice you've been expertly eviscerated.

If this doesn’t go down a treat at your next vampires and vicars party, you’re probably just a human.

More information on Heavy Ghost here.

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