Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Musk Ox – s/t (Absurdist)

Musk Ox is one Nathanael Larochette, a young man from Ottawa who’s devoted himself to classical guitar in pursuit of bleakly pastoral sounds and atmospheres. Neofolk, I guess is the neogenre, but really, the sparse nature of Musk Ox’s music makes it a blank canvas onto which you can project your own sensibilities. Even before I saw the influence list on the MySpace page, I heard post-rock (Sigur Ros, Mogwai), prog rock (Anthony Phillips, Steve Howe), and moody black/death metal (Ulver, Opeth, Agalloch). If you’re attuned to any of that lot, you’ll find something to enjoy in Musk Ox. The epic song structures are quite metal—it strikes me as an all-acoustic variant on Opeth’s Morningrise—and the meticulous approach to performance and arrangement is very metal as well. Larochette finds the ideal mix of somber sonorities by mixing his guitar playing with other acoustic instruments: piano, flute, glockenspiel, cello, and voice. He might gild the lily a bit adding rain, birdsong, babbling brooks, and other “sounds of nature,” but it all works to emphasize the music’s connection to the landscape—specifically the vast empty spaces of Canada (as noted by Adrien Begrand in his Decibel review). Larochette definitely has a talent for creating substantive melodies that resolve perfectly, and after talking to him last January at The Energizer's memorial event, it sounds like he has some firm ideas about how Musk Ox will evolve. If he can expand his palette to include some full band arrangements, the results should be even more majestic. For now, for all its soothing qualities, I’m pretty excited about this flat-out beautiful record.

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