The bold quartet of aural explorers known as The Book Of Knots turn their gaze skywards for this, the third and final chapter of their ‘By Sea, By Land, By Air’ trilogy of releases, to look toward the twinkling stars, the beckoning moon and the unexplored vastness of space. Taking the perspective of the early pioneers of space exploration, and those doomed creatures shot into the ether with no hope of return, the band and their guest musicians give voice to those Icarus-like dreamers and intrepid visionaries across ten tracks of cinematic, dramatic avant-rock.
The core quartet of Matthias Bossi, Carla Kihlstedt – both also of avant-art-unusualists Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – Tony Maimone and Joel Hamilton are joined by a number of guest musicians and vocalists, following on from the tradition of their two previous albums – their self-titled debut, and their last album Traineater, which most notably featured Tom Waits – and this time including Einstürzende Neubauten vocalist Blixa Bargeld, legendary bassist Mike Watt, and erstwhile label boss Mike Patton, amongst other luminaries.
Opening number ‘Microgravity’ needs no guests to impress, as the combination of Kihlstedt’s pure, natural voice – often reminiscent of a less prone-to-histrionics Bjork – and the angular rhythmic stutter, surgically-precise stop-on-a-dime tendencies and clanging, ringing guitar are about as impressive as things get. A strong opener indeed, replete with memorable chorus.
‘Drosophilia Melanogaster’ builds its tense, cinematic sound in tiny movements around the central voiceover by Blixa Bargeld, who moves from louche conversational monologue into moaning croons, throaty shrieks and painful-sounding croaking whispers atop a mournful violin and dramatic lurching rhythm.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum frontman Nils Frykdahl takes the helm on ‘Moondust Must’, ably backed by the band and his Faun Fables compatriot Dawn McCarthy, and totally owns it. His distinctive, archly dramatic vocals combine with the metallic, clanking guitar and piston-like rhythmic judders to make something that sounds not unlike a twisted pop version of his own band. Again, a winning chorus goes a long way to carry this catchy li’l ditty. On Mars, this would be a number one smash for sure.
‘Lissajous Orbit’ features actor/singer Aaron Lazar switching between spectral crooning, soaring operatic highs and a heavily processed robotic monotone above spacious, unsettling atmospherics and fractured, splintered piano, whilst title track ‘Garden of Fainting Stars’ features the beautiful moaning sigh of Nervous Cabaret vocalist Elyas Khan and a musical bed that has both something of the slightly-askew oddness of Marc Ribot’s eighties work with Tom Waits and the beauty of a miniature, but perfectly formed, chamber quartet.
‘All This Nothing’ is an echoing atmospheric piece that reminds me greatly of Julee Cruise, ‘Yeager’s Approach’ is a squelching, crunching electronic-sounding number, shot through with spacey FX and twanging guitar, voiced by rough-voiced Mike Watt, and ‘Planemo’ begins as a spooky, spectral swirl of organ – not unlike a calliope hurtling into deep space – and the echoey low-key croon of Mike Patton before exploding into a brooding down-tempo track that would not have been out of place on Faith No More’s swansong recording, Album Of The Year. Patton is a little more restrained than usual, refraining from vocal tics and histrionics, and instead delivering a powerful, understated vocal that elevates the song considerably.
The final pairing of ‘Nebula Rasa’ and ‘Obituary For The Future’ move seamlessly from a haunting, atmospheric collage of breathy vocals, clusters of piano, slightly-askew guitar and electronically processed swarms of unspooling, violent voices, into angular, choppy avant-rock with more of those beautiful vocals from Kihlstedt and a truly bizarre intro piece by Secret Chiefs 3 and Asva guitarist Trey Spruance.
Fans of all the bands and musicians involved and mentioned above will find much to love on Garden Of Fainting Stars, as will all lovers of avant-rock and genuinely interesting music. Having been fortunate enough to follow The Book Of Knots from their debut, it is easy to see the upward curve of their progression, as each album improves upon the last and leaves the listener wondering what will come next. Over the course of their three albums, The Book Of Knots have looked to the sea, the land and the stars for inspiration, one can only wonder where will be next for them. The sky, it seems, is no longer the limit.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson