Monstrance – “Monstrance” (2007)

January 28, 2009 at 8:13 am (Reviews & Articles, XTC)

Andy Partridge’s side project with former XTC bandmate Barry Andrews. This album shows off their experimental side and is definitely an interesting experiment.
This review comes from Roque Strew, from
Pitchfork – May 8, 2007… 


Before Andy Partridge locked down his place in the new-wave pantheon as the brain and public face of XTC, he had two loves. One was a famous affair with slightly-off pop and the other was a secret crush on free jazz. Fans may have seen the signs in 1994’s Through the Hill, his record with ambient composer Harold Budd. Partridge finally fully liberates his love for Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler on Monstrance, reuniting with keyboardist Barry Andrews (who left XTC in 1979, later starting Shriekback) and recruiting Martyn Barker (drummer in Andrews’ band). Together they abandon the domain of shimmery pop with a twist for a moody, dissonant netherworld.
It bears repeating: Don’t expect to encounter XTC here. And good luck finding Shriekback. But if you take Monstrance on its own terms — bringing a yen for improvisational, instrumental music — you might feel the strange thrill of eavesdropping on a freewheeling, nonsensical conversation. Culled from roughly eight hours of recordings, we still get to hear the awkward lulls, the autistic blurts, the little foils that often enrich the surrounding noise. Lightly edited and proudly free of overdubbing, Monstrance allows concepts to roam, phrases to drift.
The record’s long prelude, “I Lovely Cosmonaut” unfolds in slow motion, as a rhythm of silences accrues in the potholes, everyone swerving around it, stubbornly, until a fuller rhythm crystallizes. “Winterwerk” is not as coy. On the contrary, Barker turns it into twirling, tropical carnival. Nevertheless, the longer tracks are the richest here. Coming in at 16 minutes, “Priapple” is arguably the centerpiece of the album. Partridge heroically sticks to a pair of fuzzy chords, as Andrews mounts a relentless and chaotic siege, while Barker answers with erratic percussion.
Every song– and not always for the better — seems to be at war with itself. “Chaingang” milks a sense of unease out of two rhythms, Partridge’s ragged Beefheart riffs in 7/4 and Barker in 4/4, that fleetingly lock into place. These blink-and-you’ll-miss-it resolutions, each one a tiny solar eclipse, give the song its thrilling air of flux and incompleteness. During the whole drama, Andrews remains the outsider looking in. He works this same routine in the first half of “Torturetainmen,” while he drills holes — it literally sounds like heavy machinery — into the oddball groove Partridge and Barker crafted together.
Calling this “unlistenable noise” is baffling. This record falls closer to the viscous, chaotic beauty of Swans than the poisonous crunch of Metal Machine Music. All the stretches of darkness have real depth, while at its calmer and more intimate moments, Monstrance evokes the stoic, spacey impressionism of ECM chamber jazz. 


Roque Strew 

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