Minneapolis natives Book Of Sand are every bit as mysterious and perplexing as the Jose Luis Borges short story that bears their namesake, with the only real ‘solid’ piece of information about their line-up being that they appear to have coalesced around a certain ‘dcrf’ and have had a number of guest members aside from this one constant.
Not much to go on, for sure, but ultimately the music alone should speak volumes…however, in this case, the music contained within The Face Of The Waters is equally puzzling.
The first five tracks are all built around the same principal set of sounds, arranged in differing layers depending upon the track in question. For example, opening gambit ‘The Face Of The Waters’ opens with a clean picked guitar, possibly fingerpicked, meandering along in odd accents with a loosely jagged feel, suddenly joined in the middle distance by barely articulate painful screams, a black metallic ‘wasps in a biscuit tin’ guitar and incredibly simplistic percussion. What sounds like a slightly off-key trumpet and saxophone combo then joins the fray and the whole morass meanders along until it ends, seemingly randomly. Next track, ‘The Waters Above And The Waters Below’ also brings in violin – an instrument that takes pride of place throughout ‘The Oldest Master’, the band’s most successful track if you ask me, and one that puts me in mind of the Sun City Girls and Eyvind Kang’s masterful ‘Ghost Ghat Pass’ – giving us the sound palette for the vast majority of the recording.
Now, speaking personally, I am not the world’s greatest fan of ‘lo-fi Black Metal’, finding it inherently pointless and, quite frankly, most often used to justify a total lack of musicianship and/or ideas…however…in the case of Book Of Sand, it merely adds to the decidedly ‘outsider’ feel conveyed by the music. There is something deeply unsettling about the combination of sounds used on ‘The Face Of The Waters’ and also a deep rooted sense of melancholy, given extra articulation by the use of acoustic ‘organic’ instrumentation.
The faltering, awkwardly jagged clean guitar bears a striking resemblance to that of Houston’s emperor of outsiders, Jandek. His unmistakeable alien blues is rarely alluded to outside of his own weighty oeuvre, but here the parallel is utterly obvious, even if the context is not. This sound is odd enough when heard alone, but when welded to the murky thrum, barely-heard drumming and inhuman shrieking of the ‘lo-fi Black Metal’ contribution, it’s such an odd combination that it actually works by dint of its sheer fucked-ness. The brass and violin function very much as the warped cherries atop the Venusian frosting.
After five tracks of this disturbed, disturbing smorgasbord of odd tonality, just when you assume things can’t get much more ‘out there’, the unaccompanied tinkling xylophone/music box of ‘Interlude’ begins plunking out a short but incredibly sweet melody and throws the listener into a state of surprise, swiftly followed by closer ‘The Gates Of Heaven’ which takes the melody just heard during ‘Interlude’ and transposes it to an intimately recorded acoustic guitar and hushed vocal tones, shot through with bluesy guitar bends.
The sudden use of melody, the stripped down nature of the sounds and the warmth generated by the organic tones in these last two numbers is as great a surprise, when juxtaposed with the alien coldness of the first five numbers, as hearing the main body of the album alone.
Kudos to Book Of Sand for managing to get such disparate styles and sounds to hang together so coherently and, most importantly, enjoyably. In the hands of some, this could have easily wandered into pseud territory, but as it is Book of Sand pull it off as though it’s the most natural thing in the world.
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Scribed by: Paul Robertson