Tongue Depressor :: Bones For Time

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Tongue Depressor :: Bones For Time

Hailing from the upper reaches of the Northeast, Henry Birdsey and Zach Rowden managed to branch out into the furthest corners of Free Music before coming together as Tongue Depressor. The pair has made their case for the future of organic music over the course of nearly two dozen releases in the seven years since, setting the template for the most open form of Avant-classical meets American primitive sounds that have yet to grace the ears of adventurous listeners. Bones for Time finds Rowden and Birdsey at the pinnacle of their powers, with the double LP treatment offering a chance to stretch their improvisations into uncharted regions of sonic anti-catharsis.

The first of the four sides highlight Rowden’s mastery over the upper register of his double bass. Abandoning the role of time-keeper, the focus of the entire piece rests upon the tightened strings below the bridge as he bows his instrument to new heights (or possibly the bowels of hell). The arco work remains a show stopper throughout, creeping up from the otherworldly vibrations that ground the entirety of the record. As “The Reason You Don’t Sleep is the Words” takes off, the drones with which the composers work so heavily into their individual and collective work become the haunting backbone of an exploration on tape delay, sound (of all manners) manipulation, and possessed steel guitar courtesy of Birdsey. There is a stark aural kinship with wind chimes or aeolian harp; if only they were tuned to microtonal frequency that would have Mike Cooper nodding in approval. Eventually the wash of drone gives way to a pulse of electronics and a looped stringed instrument of some sort—among the layers, somehow simultaneously building and dissolving all at once, it doesn’t matter what it is. All that does matter, is the fact that this duo has reached down into the core of the planet to align their output with the very pulse of the Earth. 

“Hymns of Mud” offers the clearest impression of Tongue Depressor’s musical worldview, in spite of the title. A near indeterminable tonal strand winds it way through the entirety of the piece as barrages of percussion, electronics, and wayward strings demarcate points of interest. ‘Cosmic American’ fails to capture the extent to which Birdsey and Rowden push their craft; though the sounds created are inherently within the vein of an ancient Americana. Bones for Time prioritizes the cautionary tales of an unknown landscape that both enraptures and endangers those brave enough to seek it out. As “Narrowing of the Days” reaches its – and the records – conclusion, Tongue Depressor close in on the listener. Overtone domination pounds on, but for the first time, the sonic openness of the music begins to compress. With an almost industrial bombardment, the almost not-there aural undercurrent that has connected the four disparate pieces into one individual work becomes overwhelming. In this washout comes clarity. Every other bit of noise that the duo throws into the mix is constricted before fading out into nothingness. From this new vantage point, we can step back and examine Bones for Time as the monolith that it is. | j rooney

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