It is a rare thing to hear an album that makes you appreciate the simple fact that music exists. As the notes begin, the rest of the world slowly melts away; the only thing that matters is the sound emanating from the stereo, taking a life of its own. French duo Natural Snow Buildings craft music so beautiful, so fragile, it almost makes me want to weep.
The sole idea of listening to 160 minutes of music by any one band can seem like a daunting task. There aren't too many artists out there that I'd want to listen to for 2.5 hours in one continuous sitting. With that much music, you'd expect there to be a decent amount of filler material, but not so in this case. NSB decided to unleash this sprawling monster of a 2CDR set on a very unsuspecting public, and I'm more than grateful for it. After a barely heard debut release on Hinah, that showed serious promise but owed much to the sample laden sound of Godspeed You Black Emperor! and A Silver Mt. Zion, NSB seem to now be completely comfortable in their own skin. References can still be made to acts like Windy & Carl, Mus, Lamp of the Universe and Flying Saucer Attack, but those are just starting off points. Across the 25 tracks on these discs, more than a little sonic ground is covered. Stylistically, things can change almost from song to song, but still retain a strong fluidity throughout, which in itself is quite a feat.
Opening track "Carved Heart" sets the mood of what's to come over long journey ahead. One of the shorter tracks on the set at just under 2 minutes long, it is melancholy and hushed, like a child's lullaby bathed in darkness. With such a strong first track, the listener is immediately drawn in, eagerly anticipating what will come next. Electronic whirs and wheezes then fill the room with "Cut Joint Sinews and Divine Reincarnation," making way for the trance inducing raga that lays ahead. Hand drums and finger cymbals are used to great effect, while the ominous drone in the background becomes louder and more threatening. It's definitely the most intense track on the album, and at 15 minutes long, by the end of it you can't help but feel a little scared. This is not the last of the rage-esque tracks on the album, but none of them are as fervent as this initial example. After a brief interlude we are treated to some of the most ecstatically beautiful music I've heard, well maybe ever. "Wisconsin" is all heavily reverbed guitar picks and strums, ranking up there with the prettiest guitar ambience heard since W&C's "Drawing of Sound." A simple guitar line is repeated, while more layers of guitar accent the already stunning happenings. Just past 12 minutes long, it's the kind of song you wish would never end. If NSB decided to release an entire boxset of just this song, extended from minutes to hours, I would happily purchase it.
One of a few straight forward, and almost painfully beautiful, songs is "The Cursed Bell" from disc 2. An acoustic guitar is strummed with ease while singer Solange's incredibly sad vocals soar high above, sounding like a song for a long lost lover, out at sea and never to be heard from again. It ends just as soon as it begins, leaving chills that resonate into the echoed vocal and delayed guitar mantra of "All Animals in the Form of Water."
Note must also be made of the exquisite packaging the group put together for this release. Both CDRs come tucked in the pocket a hard red card sleeve, with a paste on cover and printed inside, along with a hand-sewn 12 page booklet of information, lyrics and evocative artwork. A small photograph is also pasted into the booklet, which is printed on thick artists paper. A labor intensive job, no doubt, for this surely quite limited release.
I really can't say enough good things about this release. What they will do next, only time to will tell, but if this is any indication of what's to come, I may have found a new favorite group. This release may be hard to find, but if you like having your ears caressed and soothed for hours on end, seek this out at all costs. Without a doubt, this will rank as my album of the year. 10/10 -- Jed Bindeman (28 August, 2006)