Charlemagne Palestine (Charles Martin by birth name) originally studied as a cantor, though his early compositions dealt in drones and belfry-booming carillon bells. Throughout his storied career as a minimalist, the Brooklyn-born Palestine has crafted works that sound miles away from anything typically “American.” Out on Buffalo’s Desire Path Recordings, his latest, Day of the Demons, a joint effort with sound artist and composer Janek Schaefer, continues that trend.
Beginning with a simple drone, Day of the Demons slowly blooms into a blustery composition populated with delicately pronounced vowels and subtle bell chimes. Vocal chants linger above, sporadically dipping below the drone, redoubling as a ghostly chorus. It’s a series of slow-motion atomic blasts, each new shockwave mushrooming and settling in on itself like a collapsed blanket. It’s peering into another dimension to view a choir of flaggy wraiths as the staunch mourning bell tolls of fire nips at their bottoms. All this in the twenty-minute “Raga de L’pres midi pour Aude,” which comprises Side A of the release.
Day of the Demons Eastern-influenced sounds are alive and roaming here as the beehive of melting sound never settles into the parameters of “major” or “minor” tonality. Instead, we get a slow burn of mystic rhythm and spirit, garnished with an airy vocal sheen. The voices on the recording are both Palestine’s and Schaefer’s which, when combined with a shruti box and bits of harmonica sounds, create the contemplative, meditative first side of Day of the Demons.
After those sounds rumble away, a piercing melodica enters with shaky chimes rattling all around it. This is Side B , “Fables From a Far Away Future,” which features field recordings from a street carnival nearby the Brussels studio where the pair completed the album. The jam-packed “Fables” features intermittent desk bells that keep the atmosphere playful while still mysterious — a must. The track’s full, yet not overcrowded, and its twenty minutes enable it to become a journey, a travelogue of sorts for an avant-garde mind.
People’s voices cut in and vanish quickly. Words are unimportant; sounds are everything. Spots of ominous crunch dab the song in black, then tiny bells rescue it (and us) before total cataclysm. It’s big-top sound exploration, a detour from the ornate, decorative frontispiece of life’s carousel to the gritty, anxious back alley where piles of unwon giant teddy bears fill the dumpsters. And at the end, after all the bulbs burn out and wet newspapers line the street, you stroll through the deserted tents in dawn’s purple glow, acutely aware of the pleasant peculiarity of it all.
This is what Charlemagne Palestine and Janek Schaefer have accomplished on Day of the Demons. It’s a trip, a grand shuffle and a gratifying listen. Serve with wine or, as Palestine likes to imbibe on stage, cognac and cloves. Headphones or bulbous speakers a must. Eyes closed. Enjoy.
Review by Patrick Hosken