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Ex-Easter Island Head: Mallet Guitars One

img  Tobias Fischer

Mallet Guitars One, the debut release of Liverpool-based duo Ex-Easter Island Head, is the sound of two percussionists performing with mallets on three solid-body electric guitars. Recorded live in the expansive space of a church, the three-movement work—which clocks in at just 13 minutes—is a mesmerizing soundscape of shifting rhythms and overtones.

Each of the three compositions is built on minimalist layers of rhythm. The sound of the mallets striking the strings offers an intriguing vibraphone-like tone doubled with a clicking, percussive element. This is offset by the drone-like resonance of the strings, which nebulously morphs into different chords; as the mallets strike different notes, new overtones emerge, bring ever-changing color to the ever-present hum. During the second movement, these overtones alternate constantly through a three-chord progression and at key moments emerge as upper-register melodic motifs, making for a luminous and immersive sound.

As hypnotic and repetitive as the music is, each movement is marked by intricate, ever-revolving rhythmic figures that perpetually shift phrase accents. And within each short piece (none exceed the five-minute mark), the musicians transition through multiple rhythmic/dynamic blocks. Throughout the entirety of the record, only three chords are used. Variations of similar rhythmic motifs move through the pieces so that the album progressives as a single, unified composition. Given the seemingly limited sonic pallet Mallet Guitars One makes for a remarkably expansive sound.  There are no electronic effects applied to the instruments and no clearly discernable post-production tricks or overdubs. Rather, the percussionists use different parts of the each guitar’s fretboard and wooden body to bring out harmonics and variances in tone.

Musically speaking, Mallet Guitars One treads the same water as other percussion-driven minimalism: the compositions of Steve Reich, the performances of So Percussion and Tortoise. But Ex-Easter Island Head’s process brings a slightly new color palette to the table. As rich in overtones and musical direction as it is in inventive rhythms, Mallet Guitars One makes for a remarkably varied and texturally intriguing journey.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Low-Point Records

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