Christina Carter

Electrice

(Kranky; 2006)

By Clayton Purdom | 19 September 2007

Gimmick (also, press sheet): Christina Carter (one half of the Charalambides) sits down in a studio with a guitar and improvises four songs all using the same key and the same guitar tuning; a forty minute record called Electrice results. Fair enough, yeah? If there’s a problem here, it’s the fact that every review of this record will have to regurgitate the press sheet; in a lot of ways, the “experiment” is the primary drawing power. As a rule, there’s nothing wrong with a gimmick, but nothing redemptive, either. As Dom has pointed out, a gimmick is only as good as the trickster pulling it, which means Electrice has exactly two possible fates: maddeningly dull or…well, maddeningly beautiful.

Or: both at the same time. The reason Electrice works is because it forges a third way, creating long lines of sound that waver brightly and dissolve utterly. They build on and against one another; in Carter’s vacuum, no moment is sacred, but taken as a whole, the cumulative effect can be staggering. Carter layers her digitized wails one on top of the other, and serpentine mixing intertwines the vocals with the guitar(s), which themselves seem to be bouncing off mirrors. The result is a sound that makes the two most common features in twentieth century pop music -- that is, guitars + vocals -- sound as breathtakingly alien as the globular drones of Tim Hecker’s Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again or the sine waves of Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Playthroughs (both 2002). Carter slips into the constraints of the experiment easily, and the resulting sounds function as a remarkably compact mission statement. One wonders how other artists would fare.

Opener “Second Death” is the most “intense” song here, in that Carter’s initial anguished wails find no respite, the only resolution offered being three minutes of chiming guitars banging against one another. It’s either one strum echoed ad infinitum or a sequence of crumbling persistence; who can tell, though? “Moving Intercepted” bears the cold distinction of being the song wherein Carter finally cries “electrice,” the banshee climax to six minutes of miasmic guitarwork, a sudden stumble forward in tempo, her voice picking up and issuing the word in a resigned sigh. “Yellow Pine” serves to double the amount of cloudy distance between “Second Death” and closer “Words Are Not My Own,” which is all negative space, the guitar ringing out one strum at a time, Carter’s voice now coming unmuddied into what sounds increasingly, devastatingly like a black hole.

So, yeah. It can be a tough listen at times, not quite as tummy-sickening as Joy Shapes (2004) but significantly less appeasing than this year’s A Vintage Burden. But comparing this release with the music Carter makes with the Charalambides is unfair rhetoric; this is a decidedly solo affair, and as such its final sonic impact (not dissimilar to Basinski’s Disintegration Loops [2003]) is more direct and immediate. This emotional pull, then, is what elevates this “experiment” from a chin-stroking curio to an artistic missive of the highest order: in stimulating our brains, Carter’s music simultaneously impacts that thing pumping inside our chests, too. Few other artists could pull of an album with such restrictive parameters; regardless, I’ll be waiting patiently for John Mayer’s interpretation.