Avia Gardner РMore Than Tongue Can Tell & D̩sormais РDead Letters To Lost Friends (Intr_version)

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Mitchell Akiyama weighs in with two radically different but equally accomplished releases on his intr_version imprint, the first, More Than Tongue Can Tell, a collaborative venture with vocalist Jenna Robertson under the Avia Gardner name and the second, Dead Letters To Lost Friends, his Désormais project with Tony Boggs (aka Joshua Treble). The former is a stunning mini-album of electronic madrigals while the latter presents inspired guitar-based instrumentals in a style that recalls bands like Do Make Say Think.

On their Avia Gardner debut, Robertson and Akiyama craft disarmingly lovely electrified madrigals and ballads. Naturally, Robertson’ hushed vocals are a focal point but they’re merely one key element in the pair’ ethereal fabric of sound. Shifting from aggressive, even explosive episodes to peaceful, reflective passages, the grandiose title song layers her delicate voice over a rich bed of rickety pianos, echo-laden guitars, and rippling electronic noise. The vinegary saw of Ellie Nimeroski’ violin dominates the opening section of “Dread and Dreaming” before Robertson’ entrancing whisper emerges accompanied by the stately pluck and strum of a ukulele-like instrument. The soft burr of Vitamins For You’ saxophone joins a warm mix of vocals, drum brushes, and electric guitar in the lush ballad “If You Lose the Key, Throw Away the House.” In the first of two remixes, Boggs first smothers “Dread and Dreaming” with cacophonous noise before abruptly shifting gears to spotlight delightfully fragile vocals and violin. Somber string motifs then merge with electric guitar fuzz and softly seething static in “Urban Gravity” before this intricate and hallucinatory mini-album of refracted Victorian lullabies comes to a close.

Despite their contrasting styles, there are overlaps between the albums: like the Avia Gardner disc, Désormais’ album updates rough-edged acoustic sounds using digital technologies; Robertson and Vitamins For You appear again, with her soft whisper added to the dreamy ballad “Can I Read You This?” and his sax a key voice in the lulling ballad “This Ship Sinks Sideways.” Beyond such connections, however, the albums explore markedly different territory. Eschewing vocals altogether (with one exception), Désormais courts a rough, at times ragged style with the songs’ melodies and themes defined hazily if at all. The album gets a strong boost from Hanged Up’ Eric Craven who adds his drumming prowess to the creaky fiddles and grungy guitars of “Hell’n Ohio” and the pummeling dirge “If People Could Fly They’d Likely Have Talons.” The music veers between a conventional guitar-based style (“Walk to the Hotel Alone,” with its drum brushes and wiry slide guitars, and “One or Many Wolves,” whose graceful guitar filigrees chime alongside a stomping drum attack) and a boldly experimental one. Digital processing moves to the forefront on “Salt Eyes Fuck Yeh” with acoustic sounds wrapped in a blurry blanket of phasing effects while shuddering streams of fuzzy distortion in “Drowning in Place,” “I Wore Water Wings but the Chlorine Still Stings,” and “Verbs & Streams” invite comparisons to Fennesz and Tim Hecker recordings. More Than Tongue Can Tell and Dead Letters To Lost Friends not only sound distinctive, but boast fabulous packaging design too, thanks to Marian Bantjes (Avia Gardner) and Dessa Harhay (Désormais).

Ron Schepper

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