Bird Show – Lightning Ghost (A Review)

Bird Show – Lightning Ghost
Kranky CD

Kranky continues to be a one stop shopping resource for contemporary drone based music, a genre which has developed beyond the clichés of ambient music in ways that surprise and delight. A case in point is Bird Show, a project of Chicago’s Town and Country member Ben Vida. Green Inferno, the group’s first Kranky release from 2005 was a beautiful but relatively placid disk, mixing environmental recordings from Japan and Puerto Rico with warm drones and Arthur Russell-style intimate vocals. A list on the CD cover included the following: “The Fall”, Chris Marker’s film remarkable meditation on time and place, “Sans Soleil”, David Tibet, Areski and Brigitte Fontaine, Werner Herzog and Robert Wyatt: tough acts to follow. But Vida’s evident fascination with mutant folk cultures and the world of traditional ecstatic trance producing musics has deepened on Lightning Ghost, which is the product of a year of playing live. Many of the tracks are built on percussion jams which sound like Psychedelic Underground era Amon Duul I – as does the lo-fi home studio production. While Amon Duul really was a collective, Bird Show feels more Apollonian and introspective, like a digital reconstruction of a traditional music – or a community dreamt up in a bedroom. There’s something very moving, very much alive about this. Zimbabwean thumb pianos, guitar lines out of King Sunny Ade, vocal chants and horns that sound like Jajouka – still you would not call this a “hot” sound. One thinks of Jon Hassell circa Aka-Darbari-Java and his fourth world music, an idea whose time may finally have come – musical techniques, practices, from all across the map, converging in sustained tones, without being absorbed into New Age universalizing sludge. Easy to write off as cultural appropriations, these kinds of experiments, whether from Sublime Frequencies or the Boredoms can also be seen as attempts at engagement with other cultures and traditions. The devil is in the details. As post-colonialist critic Gayatri Spivak says, there are “no guarantees”. As for Bird Show – so far, so good.

(Originally published in Signal to Noise, 2006)

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