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CD Feature/ MGR vs. Xela: "Barge Split Series Vol. I"

img  Tobias
It is easy to forget that albums are still a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the arrival of the LP (for thousands of years to be more precise), musicians or composers would think in “works”, unbound by demands of record companies to produce enough material for a full-length CD. With regards to the ongoing artistic hardships of working with this format, it sometimes seems as though a return to the days when “value for money” referred to the quality of the material instead of the amount of minutes per disc, would not exactly be the worst option. As this Split record proves, however, there are still plenty of artists and labels with the necessary chuzpe out there to defy these superimposed business laws.

In any case, there can be no doubt that the two compositions collected on this slab of Vinyl are such astoundingly proprietary worlds, so idiosyncratic in their vocabulary and absolute in their creative dimensions, driven by the will to squeeze out the last drop of creative blood that even asking for a second more music by one of the artists would have compared to trying to tap a dried-out vein. The sheer emotional weight implicitely forbids contextualising the music: After the final note has died down, there really is nothing more to say.

One therefore rightly suspects two well-synchronised musical personalities behind these projects. Michael Gallagher has built up his MGR brand with all the time and care in the world in between creative breaks of his main band Isis. Only months ago, his full-length “Wavering on the Cresting Heft” caught the eye of misanthropics worldwide, a matchless exercise in enjoying the sweet fruits of isolation and melancholia. In the by now well-filled basin of guitar drone builders, his sound sticks out for its clarity and poignancy, its precision and concentration on what’s essential.

John Twells, meanwhile, has used the Xela moniker for releases in a wide range of formats and a cornucopia of styles. And yet, a certain plaintive psychological disposition between the painful and the consoling, characterises most of his output. Hope and despair are always closely connected in his music, it seems, and maybe it is true that one needs to hit bottom to truly experience either of the two – and to let go of everything to feel them at the same time.

MGR’s “Shipping Gold” opens Side A with a hypnotic folk motive consisting of three broken chords and various subtle variations. Similar to acoustic intros to 80s Metal songs, the music seemingly stands still for minutes, with only regal drones hovering in the background, before crunching powerchords come in like the premonitious sounding of an old clock at midnight. Gallagher tightens the grip of distortion on his track, its plot thickening and its textures bulging out in all directions, heading towards a personal apocalypse and a moment when no excuse in the world can save one from the truth.

A sharp contrast opens Xela’s “Calling for Vanished Faces”: Bubbling and burping, gurgling and gorging, stuttering and squealing noises tear the listener from his dreams and – if the volume of his stereo so demands – from his seat. Then, from nowhere, loose drum strokes indicate a second beginning and the void behind the sounds is filled by the influx of a serene chorale, its mournful voices piercing the fabric of the track like an arrow penetrates a lover’s heart.

Just like Gallagher, Twells remains in this space for the entire 23 minutes of his contribution, merely increasing or decreasing its density, firing up the drum rolls or letting them fade away again. In the timebubble of this unfathomable miracle, everything changes, yet always stays the same.

The choice of Vinyl is almost mandatory for this kind of music, which relies so much on depth, gutfeeling and spatiousness. Remarkably, however, everyone involved was not just happy, but outright determined to use the material for a Split album, well-knowing about its status as the most unpopular format of them all. This adherence to what one instinctively knows as an artist to be right choice has resulted in an LP which a lot of people will probably be whispering about in silent reverence very soon.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: MGR
Homepage: Xela
Homepage: Barge Recordings

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