End of May 2006: Strange Fortune Newsletter: Current 93 Black Ships Ate The SkyA Strange Fortune Update End of May 2006
CLOSED 6/1 - 6/5
Strange Fortune will be closed for a few days this week, reopening on 666/sicksicksick. Accepting orders & email during this time but you won't receive response til afterward.
GEM OF THE MONTH: CURRENT 93
Strange Fortune's Gem of the Month for June 2006 is Current 93's _Black Ships Ate the Sky_.
Current 93's long awaited return to the world of apocalyptic folk is thee album of Summer '06!
David Tibet brings together an extra special musical family overflowing with the talents of Marc Almond, Antony Johnson, Baby Dee and so many others.
_Black Ships Ate the Sky_ comes as a boxed set including a substanial book of liner notes. It's in stock & available to order right away for just $15 & shipping. Listen to a one minute sample of this gem and read all about it at
Black Ships Ate the Sky at Strange Fortune
BLACK SHIPS ATE THE SKY: A STRANGE FORTUNE REVIEW (LONG)
David Tibet's Current 93 has followed such a fascinating evolution.
>From the primitive droning of _Nature Unveiled_ (1983) to the apocalyptic-folk pioneering _Swastikas for Noddy_ (1987), to the enormous, epically orchestrated masterpiece _Thunder Perfect Mind_ (1992), it used to be the one thing you could expect from every new Current 93 release was it would be "bigger" than the last. Each album was more ambitious, more audacious, with more new ideas and more and better musicians than ever before.
Tibet & company were pursuing a "maximalist" path for the first era of their career a little recklessly even making for a very exciting first decade of Current 93. I still remember being astonished at the sheer size of the band lineup on releases such as _Thunder Perfect Mind_. How much bigger could they get, how much further could they go?
_Thunder Perfect Mind_ would prove to be a peak of sorts, as the following releases saw the band start to mellow out and strip away musical layers one by one. After a couple albums it was clear we were now following a "minimalist" path. Each new release was more stripped down than the last. Less variety, simpler instrumentation, fewer players.
Why turn around in this way? It's just my own observation & speculation but it seems clear that Tibet began to see the big dazzling musical accompaniment as a potential distraction to his art. Tibet has never claimed to be much of a "musician." He isn't necessarily out to make great music. He doesn't really sing or play any instruments. What he really has to offer is, words and ideas. Current 93's work was now getting closer to the center David Tibet's words and ideas.
This minimalist direction would culminate in the release, _Soft Black Stars_ of 1998. By this point we are down to nothing but Tibet's spoken poetry and a gentle piano accompaniment. On the surface _Soft Black Stars_ is an absurdly simple album. On a musical level it is not particularly interesting at all.
The genius of _Soft Black Stars_ is the consideration that if this work stands as a success at all, then it has to be because of the core content Tibet's words & ideas because there is almost nothing else! He seems to be testing whether he can carry it on his own.
And in fact _Soft Black Stars_ holds up well. I won't claim I personally find it to be the most enjoyable Current 93 release, but it's a success of some level. Tibet has always maintained it is his favorite.
"armageddon music eclipsed by words"
A major point established with _Soft Black Stars_, Tibet may have regained the confidence and willingness to start "building" again. Subsequent new recordings have been few and scattered but have shown Current 93 developing the sound of a full ensemble once again. The difference this time is the central vision radiates more effectively than ever the minimalist exercise having strengthened Tibet's delivery (see the _Halo_ recording for striking demonstration of his new powers).
And now after four years of work, it's time at last for the next major studio album of Current 93.
_Black Ships Ate the Sky_ is no less than an epic masterpiece on the level of _Thunder Perfect Mind_. This album is enormous in every way. The band lineup is large and many-talented. There are two different lead guitarists, alongside cello, viola, harp, harmonium and electronics. There are vocals from eight star collaborators. It's 21 tracks, 75 minutes long.
Going by the liner notes it seems this album had something of a two phase development. It was begun four years ago with longtime guitarist Michael Cashmore as main collaborator, and finished later on with Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance taking over his role.
Half the tracks of _Black Ships Ate the Sky_ have a "Cashmore" sound and half have a "Chasny" sound. Michael Cashmore has long ranked high among my personal favorite guitarists, with his refined classical style and a mesmerizing, chime-like quality. New-Wierd-American folk guitarist Ben Chasny offers a softer, more earthy style that sounds like it's coming from a cabin in the middle of the woods. It's impossible to decide which style I like better. Based on what I'm hearing here Chasny is likely to become another of my favorite players.
Another signficant musical contribution comes from cellist John Contreras. His presence is noticeable through most of the album, always adding a welcome, rich element to the tracks, and the extra level of depth you can get from a string player who knows what he's doing. Contreras is listed as one of the five core members alongside Cashmore & Chasny, Tibet & Stapleton.
Further musical elements adding to the mix range from piano by Antony, to viola by the talented William Breeze (of Coil & Psychic TV), to electronics by William Basinski, to the usual sonic manipulation of Stephen Stapleton.
Eight guest vocalists appear on this album, for the most part delivering interpretations on an old apocalyptic hymn called "Idumaea" by Charles Wesley. Each one of their parts serves as a valuable contribution to the whole, with the opening rendition by Marc Almond ranking as particularly memorable. Further performances come from Antony, Baby Dee, Cosey Fanni Tutti and other guests of similar caliber. The recurring lyrical theme holds the work together in a similar way as the repeated lullaby of _All the Pretty Little Horses_ ten years ago.
The title of _Black Ships Ate the Sky_ is certainly over-the-top. If anyone else were to come up with such a title we would assume they had been watching too many bad science fiction movies. When Tibet comes up with this title, we figure he has a profound vision to relate, and indeed the lyrics are stirring throughout, from the soft pastoral innocence of the initial tracks to the apocalyptic wailing of the later tracks. As always there are definite way-over-the-top moments, and you won't get through this album without laughing out loud at least once. This is part of Tibet's charm. (As a side note _Black Ships Ate the Sky_ imparts new humor into Thomas Dolby's _Aliens Ate My Buick!_)
_Black Ships Ate the Sky_ is the long awaited next epic Current 93 album that can stand next to _Thunder Perfect Mind_ in every way, by a band reinvigorated by being rebuilt from scratch in more potent form.
It's the kind of awe-inspiring listen that makes me remember why I got into music like this in the first place, and ended up collecting almost every album of Current 93 & related projects. It's skillfully played music directed by creative ideas a fusion that's more potent than the music on its own or the ideas on their own.
While such a "big" album could seem daunting, this music is of such quality that you sink in easily from the first notes Marc Almond makes sure of it and the 75 minutes go by like 15. It's the kind of album you'll realize quickly is worth 100 times what you paid for it.
_Black Ships Ate the Sky_ comes as a substantial boxed set including a book of liner notes. "Booklet" doesn't quite apply, it's more of a book, a big fat book. It's the kind of package that reminds us the role of liner notes in the first place, including all the lyrics and photos of all the players and giving an intimate feeling for the album.
This Current 93 release comes at a time of renewed interest in creative folk-inspired music in the larger indie music scene. While this album will be a big success within the usual fanbase, it'll also be interesting to watch how it's received by those whose interest is captured for the first time.
It would seem the sky's the limit!
A BLACK SHIPS CHALLENGE
Strange Fortune defies any dark folk music fan to listen to one minute of _Black Ships_ and walk away without deciding to pick up this album. come on, we dare ya!
Listen to Black Ships Ate the Sky at Strange Fortune
By the way Strange Fortune is bringing this title to you for one of the best prices to be found - don't let it pass you by.
Strange Fortune's New Music Release Updates newsletter is available as a mailing list and as a subscribable blog.
To be added or removed from the mailing list, simply reply to service (at) strangefortune (dot) com with "remove" or something else that describes your wish.
To subscribe to the blog go to strangefortune.livejournal.com
Michael J. Salo
The source for strange & exquisite sounds
Strange Fortune / PO Box 440383 / Somerville MA 02144 USA