The latest Charalambides outing A Vintage Burden brings with it significant change. With Heather Leigh Murray having departed, the group is once again a duo of Tom Carter on various guitars and wife Christina Carter on guitars and vocals. Consequently, the sound is predictably more stripped down than before but, most significantly, the album’s mood is both brighter and more melodic than 2004’s Joy Shapes. True, a haunted aura does shadow the opener “There Is No End” but, immediately thereafter, Christina’s vocal quiver wafts dreamily through the ballad “Spring” (“It will shine / Let it shine”) and then works entrancing multi-tracked magic in “Dormant Love.” The new material sounds as if certain unspecified demons have been exorcized since the last album.
The past year has witnessed a remarkable numeric rise in ‘new folk’ (or—choose your preferred label—‘psychedelic folk,’ ‘free folk,’ etc.) artists but, this time around at least, Charalambides distances itself from the competition by downplaying the freakier dimension and emphasizing melodicism, making for a more accessible sound yet one that doesn’t betray the group’s principles. The eighteen-minute instrumental “Black Bed Blues” might seem tailor-made for a harrowing treatment but Tom reigns in such impulses, opting instead for a slow-building latticework of meditative guitar playing. Only in its last four minutes does his fiery electric guitar migrate into more incendiary territory but, even then, Carter never lets it spin out of control (check out also the blissed-out euphoria conjured by his guitar army during the second half of “Two Birds”). That the wholly listenable A Vintage Burden is so accessible surprises but in no way off-puttingly.