steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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info opinion

Cul De Sac

"Death of the Sun" CD

Strange Attractors Audio House

Genres: experimental rock, post-rock

Strange Attractors
PO Box 13007
Portland, OR
97213-0007 USA

Mar 3 - 9 2003

How can anyone not like Cul De Sac?  From their humble beginnings in 1990 up until the present time, they've released some of the most beautiful albums ever to see the light of day.  And now, with the release of Death of the Sun, they can add another peg to their growing legacy.

Death of the Sun has an interesting premise.  The band have decided to incorporate samples into each of the pieces on the album, basing each track on a specifically-made digital sequence.  Extensive liner notes explain the sources of each of the samples.

The first track, for example, is based on samples taken from an obscure 1933 78 RPM record by the Comedian Harmonists, who were supposedly Germany's answer to American a cappella group The RevellersCul De Sac uses only a small snippet from the five-part harmony vocals of the Harmonists' "Creole Love Call" - taken straight from the actual 78 and then digitally edited and sequenced to fit into the band's ten-minute "Dust of Butterflies."  The results are astonishing.  The sample fits perfectly with the band's instrumentation, composed mainly of violin, guitar, drums, and melodica.

"Bamboo Rockets, Half Lost in Nothingness, Searching for an Inch of Sky" then uses Michael Bloom's Peruvian rainforest field recordings as its source, with the band accompanying the atmospheric sounds with a well orchestrated drum and sitar part.  Sparse and yet mystically powerful, the piece is a technical achievement - a beautiful track that's only enhanced by the inclusion of exotic field recordings.

Later in the album we have "Bellevue Bridge," which takes field recordings from the Bellevue Bridge, a toll bridge that connects Bellevue, Nebraska to Iowa across the Missouri River.  Band member Glenn Jones had grown up in Bellevue, and as a child had attempted to cross the bridge via the iron support beams under it.  He never succeeded in making it the full way across, however.  Upon visiting it 40 years later, he had found that Bellevue had become a very different place.  The only thing that remained the same was the Bellevue Bridge.  Moved, he took some field recordings and then used them as the basis for "Bellevue Bridge."  The resulting combination of guitar, drums, and violin with the faintly-heard cars passing by in the background creates a beautiful, subdued sound experience.

The last track on the album is "I Remember Nothing More," and it could be the best.  After hunting for years for a 78 RPM record that Robbie Basho had covered, Cul De Sac member Glenn Jones finally tracked down Adelaide Van Wey's 1946 Creole Songs one day at a flea market .  It contained the song he wanted, "Salangadou."  He listened to it a few times and then filed it away in his personal collection.  When it came time to record Death of the Sun, though, Jones remembered it and decided to use it for the album's last track.  Instead of merely sampling a small clippet of the song, the band decided to take the one-minute song, multiply it, and then accompany it with their instruments.  The result is an eerie blend between the past and the present.  As the record plays, each scratch on the 78 can be heard - the record is ancient, but this just enhances the effect.  As the band's beautiful acoustic drums, bass, and acoustic guitar accompany the scratchy old piece, the listener's world just melts away into a puddle of archaic bliss.

Death of the Sun doesn't just see Cul De Sac at its best, it sees music at its most powerful and rewarding.  Hunt this one down, you won't regret it.


Fun Fact: "Cul de sac" means "dead end" in French.  As if you didn't know that already.  Also: our specialized research has uncovered that the Bellevue Toll Bridge's official name is actually the "Grand Army of the Republic Bridge."  You can read an article here and see pictures of the dilapidated old thing here, here, and here.

Matt Shimmer

[Vitals: 12 songs, distributed by the label, released 2002]