Crystal Moth. A bad pun maybe, but a good name all the same for this collection of ornamented songs, which its effects aren’t sharp and neurotoxic but muzzy, organic and improvisatory.
The eponymous group is founded on the bass/drums partnership of Peter Marsh and Paul May, and recordings were initially percussion-centric, but the involvement of members of the duo’s other groups Woven Entity (percussionist Patrick Dawes) and Fourth Page (pianist Carolyn Hume and singer Charlie Beresford) changed things, and it became a collection of subtly but intricately orchestrated songs.
Various guests extend the core quintet’s instrumentation, notably Duke Garwood, a guitarist who has recently recorded with Mark Lanegan. He plays on four of this album’s eight cuts, including the opening “Still Reward”, which establishes the album’s pervasive dreamlike quality with a seductive combination of bowed, picked and percussive sonorities, almost-whispered vocals, and buried intricacies. The intimate early solo music of David Sylvian is a much better marker than the more worldly Lanegan’s.
“Images of Snow” is slightly more abrasive, thanks to the fast rasping bow strokes on cello on the long, lightly percussive intro to the vocal and curious quasi-electronic guitar effects. An eventual payoff in song is accompanied by a slip into soothing, contrabass-stroked waters. But “Paul 3” is more jittery still, Hume’s electric keyboards creating dreamy textures in counterpoint to a light but lively percussion track, which combines trap rattle with light electronic pulses.
“Special Groove” is more atmospheric, with ambient abstractions ghosting a light mechanical-percussive pulse track haunted by woody flute courtesy of a guesting Julie Kjaer. There’s a muttered narrative and darker electr(on)ic undercurrents, alongside unsettling bowed metals. At length the rhythm firms up to insinuate a deeper, darker funky vibe made hefty by Marsh’s dubwise bass.
The only track with no guests, “Passed the Fountain” is the least notable. Beresford’s vocals are too introvert to carry the weight alone, and the album’s best efforts are invested in more detailed arrangements.
“Strike this Day” is fairly straightforward, but Beresford is on much stronger form, particularly, ironically, where whispers of things practically unintelligible lapse into breath sounds. There’s a beautiful suspension of songform to accommodate James Burnham’s yearning solo violin before Hume’s elec. keys and piano bridge back to the orchestrally glossed pulse of the song.
Each piece seduces further, with further intricacies in a busyness of subtle detail. On “Slowly”, it’s the anomalous pitch of Chris Cornetto’s Chinese flute that characterises the texture of the build-up of this lazy sashay of a song studded by gongs and pianism, into which Marsh’s bass injects a perfectly judged charge of electricity, a frisson of rawness that brings the track alive.
Album closer “Night” has Garwood on guitar, Cornetto on flugelhorn and Nina Abadzis adding choral vocals, and begins bright and percussively bristling, in fairly straightforward fashion, only to ease off in a more obscure middle section. It threatens, more than once, a surge of charged intensity that doesn’t quite materialise. And this isn’t nebulous, or frustrating, but in keeping with Crystal Moth’s beguiling light touch, and their intriguing predilection for indirection.
This is first and foremost a collection of rather downbeat songs, but those songs are seductive, and there’s a wealth of detail in the sinuous, sensuous arrangements in which they’re bedded.
Charlie Beresford vocals; Carolyn Hume keyboards, piano, treble recorder; Peter Marsh double bass, electric bass, steel guitar; Patrick Dawes percussion; Paul May drums; with guests Duke Garwood guitar; Chris Cornetto Chinese flute, flugelhorn; Julie Kjaer flute; Nina Abadzis choral vocals; James Burnham violin; Jon Clayton cello.
Buy Crystal Moth from the52nd’s Bandcamp.