Review: Red Wine and Sugar – Lake / Wildflower (Thalamos, Nov 15)

When it comes to speech-related elements in music, it’s almost easier, or at least less daunting to work with the nonsense ranting, abstract utterance, and rhythmic repetition of sound poetry or text-sound rather than straightforward spoken word. As listeners we’re trained to resist transparency; nothing grates at the hear more than painfully unsubtle lyrics or any other elements that are too direct to be at all effective. Mark Groves’ murky mutterings that comprise much of his contributions to Red Wine and Sugar (which also features sound artist Samaan Fieck) are lucid and intelligible, but it’s less about what he’s saying than the things his words evoke, the way they sound within the soundscapes the duo craft, the deliberate pacing and placement of certain statements. Lake / Wildflower doesn’t even reach 20 minutes but its presence is one of spindly, spidery sprawl, sketching out strange and surreal environments through the use of woozy electronics, sparse recordings, and the pregnant spaces between Groves’ ramblings. The atmosphere that seeps into both pieces is dark and uncertain, but it doesn’t draw from the moth-eaten scuzz of Lindus or the hiss-filled suspense of Letters to Friends of the Late Darcy O’Meara, instead occupying a space much more cold and synthetic. The subversive proceedings aren’t without warmth, however; it just requires a bit of digging to find it. I’d suggest starting your search amidst the ringing negative space near the halfway point of “Lake” or the tactile ennui that rustles itself into existence once “Wildflower” begins—both instances are moments that seem grey and sterile at first, but focus on them long enough and small slivers of light shine through.

“Should I have just kept my mouth shut? The ambiguity is… distressing.”

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