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CD REVIEW: Scotty Griffith - Curare
By Alex Jasperse - 05/29/2007 - 07:19 AM EDT

Artist: Scotty Griffith
Album: Curare [2007]
Label: Griffith Handmade Editions
Website: http://www.scottygriffith.com
Genre: Ambient, Experimental, Ethno-Ambient, Electro
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Songwriting Skills: 10/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
CD Review:

Sounds of every sort fill the every day. Music from the headphones of people who pass you by, the sounds of vehicles in motion, animals going about their daily routines, and people conversing in different languages. The sounds of life are disjointed and random, but combined they all make sense. So can music capture and reflect the world of sounds we live in?

If the neatly folded and well-printed paper bag CD case isn’t an indication of the creativity within, then the music may come as a surprise. Scotty Griffith’s debut, Curare, is a remedy for a chaotic and noisy world. It is a combination of short ambient pieces that are detached from all things clichéd and expected from ambient music. It’s a fusion of alternating melodic ideas and cinematic moods with a clear distancing from all things connected to the traditional. Layers upon layers of hauntingly beautiful soundscapes only begin to scratch at the depth of the totally immersive experiences that await.

“Codec One” opens the album with a slow-moving synth line that gradually ascends into a pulsating rhythm of reversed melodies, blurring the transition into “Codex Two.” The comfortable ease of the sweeping reversed lines continue as a distinctly 80s keyboard makes a guest appearance to tickle your brain for only a moment. Then, the sweet keyboard nocturne suddenly disappears when “Barrel and Pin” breaks onto the scene with a combination of overdriven hisses and chaotic drum pad movements. Disintegrating at points, and then kicking back with well-placed volume swells, the music morphs, glistens and glitters in the forefront, while skillfully disarming all possible demands for structure.

Griffith’s talent for rearranging the natural progression of rhythm allows him to wield the power to redefine all conceptions of time. “Fontanelle’s” track length of 1:35 may seem short, but because it moves and morphs repeatedly, it defies all connections that could secure it to anything measurable. Gliding through shadowy moonlit passages, the darker touch drifts into “Bent Julep” – the only track on Curare that bears any resemblance to any other artist. Whispering sweet melodies alongside the ghostly atmospherics floating effortlessly in the background, “Bent Julep” takes on a Boards of Canada character. Gradually gaining an upward momentum to reconfigure and reshape itself, it briefly returns to the beaten path and introduces a delicate and reserved drum passage to transform the warm synth melody it had left behind into a lush and hypnotic dreamscape.

Halfway though the album, it becomes clear that Griffith has effectively proved that ambient pieces don’t need to be retrained to five-and-up-minute lengths. Shorter ambient pieces, about 2 to 3 minutes in duration, have the tendency to feel disconnected and mismatched with the album they’re hosted on. But shorter tracks like “The Haruspex” and “I Was and You Were” are atmospheric pieces that beautifully colour the sonic canvas with touches of wave deconstruction, rumbling bass melodies and warm synths, without ever feeling rushed. Each layer could have ten or more minutes to itself, able to explore its own voice, but it doesn’t. Less is truly more. And combined, all the layers feel clean and natural, innovative and mesmerizing, and simply ethereal. Everything may be highly processed, but it speaks with a purism that’ll make you believe Griffith is maintaining every sound in its traditional form.

The ethno-ambient sound hinted at throughout several of the earlier pieces finally pokes its head through in “Unkyo.” A zither harp sets forth, only to be joined by a clean electric guitar for a short solo. When it feels like the voyage is about to come to an end, highly overdriven guitars propel the track upwards with a transcendent force that defies description. Left in the awe of “Unkyo,” “Manasarovar” slows everything down to fill the soundscape with lush colours and emotions, painting the audio canvas with heartfelt emotionalism and lifelike details that’ll evoke colour synesthesia. (If you haven’t ever experienced the sheer power of music and the colours that can be triggered by sounds, this’ll be where it begins). The breathing of a guitar mixed with a quick visit from a xylophone framed with chimes echoing in the background, glisten and revel in a gentle balance of tension-and-release dynamics. The sheer complexity of the image it creates is a tranquilizing force that’ll put the world on pause – allowing the listener to try and comprehend the masterpiece that has been created right before their eyes.
So does music imitate life? Does it reflect the world of sounds we live in? Curare can very well be considered a representation of the continuous flow of sounds, the active qualities and natural layers that colour the everyday. Griffith has not limited himself to a framework or formula, and by doing so he has created a work of art where each time the instrumentation and layers sound like they’re having a new musical conversation – one that is constantly changing and growing. Simply put, Curare is a masterpiece.

The Verdict: 10/10

For more information, please contact Scotty Griffith at grifsco@aol.com 

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