The Wind-Up Bird
Whips
Music Fellowship/Translucence
2003
B



the Wind-Up Bird’s sophomore album is split into two distinct portions. The first movement, entitled “Sorry That I’ve Become This Monster”, charts the dissolution of the relationship of the main creative force, Joe Grimm, and his girlfriend of four years. The second portion, “I Love You A Lot”, attempts to pick up the pieces of these shattered memories and place them back together into some semblance of coherency. In contrast to the previous self titled disc by Grimm and Jeff Smith, Whips is a fully realized and cohesive work that flows effortlessly out of the dreaded tag of ambient into a nameless genre that lies somewhere between the ultra-dense improvisations of the Erstwhile label and the huge droning cathedrals of sound erected by the Stars of the Lid. It is easily a step above the previous full length, leaving behind the experiments with equipment and sound that reflected a group finding their way, and displaying artists now familiar and dexterous with their available sonic palette.

The disc begins, suspiciously sounding like retread from The Wind-Up Bird. This myth is soon dispelled as “Sorry” continues, as the group erects a stunning melody out of shimmering guitars and a mournful violin, building the section to a climactic drone through frantically bowed strings that cut straight into the impenetrable construction that the group has produced. Finally, the guitar gives in and stumbles away drunkenly, revealing droplets of sound, each with a different melodic pitch, to pile on top of one another while violins wail in the background. This backdrop allows the layered trumpets found on the Wind-Up Bird’s split disc with the One AM Radio to reemerge, triumphantly stating the main theme to the “That I’ve” section. Here, once again, a monument of melody is built, only to be undercut once again- metaphorically relating to the beautiful moments of a relationship that are set back by minor quibbles, only to be built into grander and deeper swells of emotion and sound.

The movement soon flows into a rhythmic section, reminiscent of Neu!, in which the relationship is further metaphorically explored as cruising along with neither participant paying much attention to what is going on around them. The sound is a beautiful one, replete with slight tics that flutter in and out of time with the simplistic beat, but everything is soon washed away by the first instance of spoken words on a Wind-Up Bird album.

The words are spoken by Grimm’s girlfriend on his answering machine, presumably while he is away performing a show- the eerie drones offering the only musical accompaniment to this confessional message which contains the words which make up the two movement’s titles. Her words are then looped and distorted over a length of time, making her sound like an actual monster and obscuring the words, rendering them both intensely meaningful and meaningless at the same time. It’s a stunning section of music that far outweighs anything that comes before it on the disc.

The final section of the movement is simply Grimm’s distant ex-girlfriend, now whispering, the refrain “I love you a lot” amid a stately fiddle solo and a bed of symphonic drones. It is the sound of realization, acceptance and endings.

And while the album could have, conceivably, ended there, the group moves on to the second movement of the symphony- one that is considerably brighter and more hopeful in tone. It still contains the last vestiges of Grimm’s ex- speaking her now mechanical refrain, but even these memories float away in the ether, subsumed by a new consciousness that attempts to supersede what has come before. It is the sound of the group, in real life and musically, attempting to map new territories for the Wind-Up Bird project to conquer, as many of the familiar elements of the past compositions are gone, replaced by a new sound palette that sounds eminently familiar and stunningly original at the same time.

Whips is the second full length offering by the Wind-Up Bird and represents a bridge from an older style of working to a new conception of music that the Wind-Up Bird and other ambient artists are forging: one that does not eschew narrative formations for drifting, ignorable aural wallpaper. As a coherent and solid effort, the disc far outstrips its predecessor and points towards good things to come from this burgeoning talent.
Reviewed by: Todd Burns
Reviewed on: 2003-12-10
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