Stone Breath
The Silver Skein Unwound
Camera Obscura
2003
B+



there is both something oddly familiar and jarringly off about Stone Breath’s fourth LP, the superb The Silver Skin Unwound. While the group mines the same woodsy psychedelic folk as on previous efforts, this effort is somehow more prescient and menacing. Main songwriting influence Timothy Renner sounds, improbably, even more plodding and despondent as his rustic baritone makes its way out of his world weary body to follow these Appalachian and Indian tinged melodic figures.

Which isn’t a change from the past instrumentation of the band. Instead, the group has chosen to continue in much the same vein as their last effort on Camera Obscura. Dulcimers, sitars and banjo all make appearances here as the lead instrument in the band’s peculiar brand of psychedelic folk, which seems to take as much from the Dead C as it does from long-forgotten Christian-psych band the Trees. In so doing, the group sounds like the sort that practices deep in the Appalachians, brewing strange concoctions that evoke the Other so easily- both exotic and primitive. And, for these 60 minutes, the listener is transported to this place, both dangerous and familiar, natural and mystical.

On tracks like “A Bottle of Breath”, this dichotomy is explored through the careful finger plucking and found sound debris of a forgotten preacher spreading the gospel. What once was distant and otherworldly in the preacher’s hands becomes fully formed as Renner and Sarada Holt give a haunting vocal performance, accompanied by an ever evolving and full musical backing. The track is seemingly the beginning of a long, arduous journey coming as the second song on the disc.

But hope is present, in minor amounts, on tracks like “Through the Trees Again”. Renner sounds close to optimistic, buoyed by Holt. It is on these duo tracks that Renner’s voice sounds best, with Holt’s voice frequently floating above, below and, at times, intertwining. These meandering and floaty vocal inflections never veer far from breathy monotone valedictions, however. Perhaps the only time that Renner manages something more ambitious than moaned wailing is “Midgard for a Dreamless Sleeper/The False Bird”, which brings a slow building raga to a frenzied conclusion as Renner goes from his trademark monotone sing-song voice to an impassioned speaking volume, until it is suddenly called to a halt, as though he is too disgusted to continue.

In scarcely moving outside of his vocal comfort zone, Renner forces the listener to absorb the mystical and frequently allusion-filled lyrics. Lyrics that one could spend hours demystifying the various stories and images conjured, but unlike many lyrically heavy albums, they actually work in conjunction with a strong musical backing to create a full fledged album of cracked genius that occupies a strange and wonderful place all of its own.
Reviewed by: Todd Burns
Reviewed on: 2003-12-09
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