Christian Kiefer is a multi-instrumentalist and composer from Northern California that first came to my attention via his duo work with Sharron Krauss on the album ?The Black Dove? (Tompkins Square). He?s also been releasing music for at least five years under his own name, with a couple albums devoted more to a songwriter?s point of view and a couple devoted more to the experimental side of things. The recent ?Czar Nicholas is Dead? falls somewhere between these poles.
There?s a debt to old America and old Europe (and Russia) at work here, as well as the avant-garde compositions of Harry Partch and Henry Flynt. The early field recordings of Alan Lomax and Harry Smith also come to mind in that Kiefer is not just concerned with composition but also with the environment that spawns composition. As the album title suggests, its tracks tell an aural story centered on the Communist Revolution and the death of Czar Nicholas. This is basically a soundtrack to a nation?s loss of innocence as manifested through actions of hope. So there?s a beauty here, but it?s a sad beauty. Each track takes its own (bitter) sweet time unfurling like death cloaks being draped over coffins. The more minimal explorations of Godspeed You Black Emperor come to mind as well. The mostly instrumentals are comprised of guitars, strings, gongs, percussion and other effects, but where Godspeed is more interested in building layers and rousing emotional peaks, Kiefer paints his sound poems with darker hues and more ambiguous tones, and in the process strikes a more honest, or at least human, musical balance. The results are never anything less than deeply hypnotic in Kiefer?s hands, and there?s even a vocal track that sounds like a bombed out answer to Low in closer ?Troika.? It makes sense that a duo recording with Tom Carter is imminent and that folks like Terry Riley and Thurston Moore are already fans. I imagine Kiefer will be weaving his dark spells for many more years to come. 8/10 -- Lee Jackson (6 March, 2007)