Sunday, June 15, 2008

Album Review: Xaphan, Secret Chiefs 3 (2008)


Although I like John Zorn’s sense of melody, I find it often gets lost in the delivery. Imagine my joy at hearing that Secret Chiefs 3 were going to be interpreting some of Zorn's Masada material as part of the Book Of Angels series. Trey Spruance, who for all intents and purposes is SC3, has an incredibly high standard of quality in his work and Xaphan is no exception. Stripped of the conceptual pretentiousness that has become expected with SC3 releases, the music is more song-based and accessible than its predecessors.
Akramachamarei is very typical of the current SC3 sound – a spaghetti-Eastern track that combines ultra-baritone surf guitars with lead violin lines. Uncharacteristically for SC3 releases however, this track (and much of the album) features a number of prominent solos before launching back into the main melody.
This can be effective in some songs, but the looseness of structure becomes repetitive to the point of boring in tracks like Shoel, Bezziel and Labbiel. The tracks are impeccably produced, but after a while it sounds like Spruance is just shifting between differently arranged sections of the same melody fragments to see which one will sound best.
Barakiel is another surf tune, with excellent shifts from 4/4 to 3/4 timing and a more subtle middle-eastern influence. Opening with a harp and female vocal arrangement of the main melody it then segues into a driving surf beat, parts of which are somewhat reminiscent of SC3’s cover of Halloween. There’s even a brief break with just bass and keys that sounds like a dead-ringer for Good Vibrations-era Brian Wilson. (The bass line in the main riff sounds like Phantom Of The Opera. Is this significant? Who the hell knows? This guy referenced TRON on his last album for god’s sake.)
Listening to the seriousness of SC3, it’s easy to forget that Spruance used to write music that was actually fun. I’m not going to mention the M.B. words, but suffice to say that Kemuel sounds positively Disco Volantian. Combining those creepy circus keyboard sounds that Spruance used to be so fond of, Kemuel is probably the most effective use of female vocals on the album and also allows Timb Harris a chance to play one of the most unconventional violin solos of his career. In the same vein, Omael is an up-tempo Balkans thrash piece that even my friends who don’t like ‘weird music’ would love.
Basically, this is SC3 at their best. The conceptual baggage that Spruance insists on inserting into his projects has been set aside and the music is better for it. Xaphan is an excellent album and a great interpretation of Zorn’s compositions.

1 comment:

sinornis said...

Akramachamarei is cool. It sounds kinda Middle-Eastern!