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Let Us Remember Beauty

Beauty's cataclysmic power will not go unheralded, especially on the latest releases from Efterklang, Shearwater, and These New Puritans.

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: February, 2010
They come on like Valkyrie with the word beauty smeared across their bare breasts in blood
by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: February, 2010
They come on like Valkyrie with the word beauty smeared across their bare breasts in blood

I came across this quote somewhere the other day, "Let us remember beauty," but its provenance escapes me. probably the Bible or Shakespeare where all quotes emanate.  It seems a foolish things to say because how can we forget it? It comes at us at all hours day and night. We can't get a damn thing done because of it. Just an hour ago, I witnessed a rather spectacular skateboard wipeout where a pretty girl passed and the guy's neck craned and down he went like a chimney under a wrecking ball. His skater-loop of keys became un-carbinered and scattered everywhere. She paused to make sure he was OK, but he didn't lumber up until she left. And she was not even that beautiful, but beautiful enough.

So let us honor beauty's power with our remembering its cataclysmic effect with these three beautiful records that are currently knocking me right off my skateboard.

Magic Chairs


"I can't keep my head inside," proclaims this Danish group's singer Casper Clausen, "because the modern drift is all I have." He does this over the gentlest Philip Glass rip-off piano until kettle drums and strings whip him up into a well-mannered frenzy. And by strings, I don't mean your average instead-of-keyboards strings but undulating, crashing waves of the things, flooding the drum machines and handclaps and what have-you so that they no longer function as built, but imbued with magic. Clausen is a pop vocalist straight and true, crooning and cooing like Chris Martin wishes he ever could, or as Bono or Peter Garbriel wish they still could. The songs on Magic Chairs are dense and resonant yet airy as a passing fancy. The group's name is Danish for both "remembrance" and "reverberation" and you feel both as he wails "Ooooh and it made us feel alike" on "Alike."  These songs are expertly crafted with just enough threads to reveal their hard work. This kind of beauty is almost stultifying, like too many flowers, you want to say enough! and the song abruptly stops only to saunter down another sun-dappled corridor of smittenness. And you want to hold its hand and go too.

The Golden Archipelago


I defy anyone to ignore the beauty in a Shearwater song. They come on like Valkyrie with the word beauty smeared across their bare breasts in blood, slowly appearing at the horizon then suddenly you are in a storm of flesh and feathers and shrieks and your feet have left a ground that you can no longer see. A lanky castrati with a guitar is pooling his heart into the air as all this happens, that castrati being singer Jonathan Meiburg. The wind is stirred by a mulletted war god named Thor (for real, the drummer is Thor Harris) and out of the corner of your eye, just as about your flesh is to be devoured by all this beauty, you spy an enchantress on a mountaintop diligently sawing at a cello (Kimberly Burke.) It starts raining, hard, and that only makes the winged assailants all the more ravenous, their ravage gains a pulse, and just as you are about to be obliterated by bliss, there is a sudden silence and they scatter away to the clouds. You breath in relief for but a moment because the next song comes in and starts the cycle anew.

The deluxe edition of The Golden Archipelago comes with a radiant 75-page dossier, from which the top photo was lifted.

These New Puritans


The chamber group/electronic project These New Puritans disavows the icy Fall fandom that generated their name to seek beauty like a mad alchemist to titrate beauty from the base elements of the world on Hidden. The songs are awash in unabashed exoticism; "We Want War" makes me want to seek out a bangled clerk to purchase some of that incense I smell. The thud of the beat, the low groan of dancefloor bass is upfront on these songs as all manner of spirits are called up in its mist. Obscured methods are employed: children's choir, recordings of knives being sharpened, prepared piano, at one point, a melon is smashed with a hammer - like Gallagher but sexy - all in the service of enchantment. In my ears, this is where the coital promise of trip-hop is delivered unlike with the droll noir of Massive Attack and the like. The encounters here are as shambolic as a sudden tryst, quiet then deafening, then suddenly you feel something you've never exactly felt before. A caress. A pinch. Maybe a slap. Something falling off the nightstand. It is to be attended to later, for the natives have once again grown restless, and the call of beauty must be answered.

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Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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