Starting a review of Charalambides’ A Vintage Burden with some personal narrative gets to the heart of why the album made such an impression on me. The first few times I listen to a CD I’m set to review, I put it on in the background. I don’t focus on song names, how long they are, who’s playing what. So quite accidentally I stumbled upon the perfect way to take in Charalambides’ music: Let it wash over you, let it slowly but surely catch your attention, and steadily let the music build its case for how engrossing it can be. Repetition, minimalism and the echoing of motifs are all perfect ways to pull a listener into the faintly warm heart of this baroquely beautiful song craft.
Charalambides start out A Vintage Burden by laying out all its cards. Opener “There is no End” features Tom Carter’s simple but attention-grabbing rising-and-falling guitar chords coupled with Christina Carter’s (apparently the two were formerly married) ghostly vocals. I immediately hope the song’s title rings true: There should be no end to music this trance inducing.
The duo’s sound calls to mind Low, a former member of Kranky’s roster, especially on “Dormant Love,” which is, at just under five minutes, the album’s shortest track. “Spring” sounds like a song of reassurance gently cooed to a child, with Christina Carter intoning, “Do not wait/ Go outside.”
On “Black Bed Blues” and “Two Birds,” the two strands of Charalambides’ DNA split apart. The first is a spooky slow burn of an instrumental that builds by layering guitar lines on top of each other. It finally winds down after seventeen minutes. On the second, it’s Christina Carter’s vocals’ turn to slowly build up.
The album closes with “Hope Against Hope,” with Christina Carter finding the different permutations possible in repeating that title ad infinitum. At six songs in fifty-two minutes, A Vintage Burden is shorter than sprawling previous Charalambides releases such as the band’s 1992 debut, Our Bed is Green. But let’s hope against hope that the Carters have plenty more where these gorgeous songs come from.
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