US - Georgia - Full Moon 76 - 12/19/02
Billions of Phonographs
The Instruments is another Elephant 6 big (brass'n'wood) band, fronted by Heather McIntosh
(vocals/cello/guitar), backed up by Eric Harris, Peter Erchick, Will Hart, John Fernandes (all
known from the Olivia Tremor Control, plus other projects), and Laura Carter (of Elf Power).
Additional guests count Jeff Mangum, Julian Koster, Scott Spillane, John D'Azzo, Andy Gonzales,
which means that almost all bands related to the E-6 family are represented. The creativity is
simply amazing. Heather has written the 10 tracks (except "By And by", which is based on a theme
by J.P. Webster), so this is sort of her solo album I guess. And, yes - of course - earlier on
she's been busy playing with or adding her cello skills on recordings with lots of bands (Superchunk,
Elf Power, Of Montreal, The Gerbils, Sunshine Fix to name a few), as well as being a member of the
Great Lakes, Ciculatory System, Japancakes and Dixie Blood Mustache. When do these people rest!?
Billions of Phonographs is a strange album, holding quite dark, dramatic folk music.
Despite the sound which is sort of hovering over wintery musical "wastelands", there's a warmth
within the tunes. The songs are more like compositions than songs, and now and again I get this
feeling of this being a European album. Eastern Europe? Some tracks are sort of cirkus-ish sounding,
like the to waltzing tracks "Sea Chantey" and "Carnival". Then there's the sweet and simple folk
song "Bird Song". The melancholy grows around "Sad Song", and the tristesse of "My Ship" is almost
overwhelming. Then again comes spooky sounds, elfish or maybe also pixies-like voices. The spooky-ness
is created by Julian's singing saw, and, yes also by the arrangements of the songs, supported by
instruments like clavinet, bassoon, flute, theremin, not to forget the human instruments: excellent
"When The Stars Shine" is maybe the moment of the album. It's monumental within its
sparse-ness. Built and driven by the powerful voice of Jeff Mangum (amongst others). "By And By"
is a fine and funny closer, with Scott Spillane's mellophone (am I right? don't have a clue what
a mellophone looks like, but this sure sounds like one...) and Webster's theme (guess
you've all heard it before) making a musical box lullaby for a non-freak show.
This is another record to make you think 'hmmm....music for some movie'. A track entitled
"For A Silent Movie" might prove my thought of Heather and co. thinking the same while making
the album. The soundtrack of a haunted house. Really good to know then that the spirits and ghosts
from a shack or a mansion which belong to the Elephant6 family bring no evil whatsoever.
Copyright © 2002 Håvard Oppøyen