The angelic white goat on the cover of Charles gives no hint as to what might lie inside. Neither does the photo of the bandfive men and two women wearing orange jumpsuits and standing in a somber line. Yet Charles is a musical treat: it contains eight songs recorded live by Barnacled, a band from Providence, Rhode Island, that blends electronic and acoustic music into a bold, one-of-a-kind tapestry.
The band's unique sound derives in part from its unusual instrumentation. There are conventional instruments such as alto and baritone sax, bassoon, keyboard, and drums, but there is also an accordion, electronics, a shortwave radio, and (why not?) a modified Speak & Spell.
Standout songs include "Title," an urgent, full-bodied tune that sounds like the theme song of a cheerfully demented TV show. "Rattles" is a headlong burst of sound, including a funky bass line, ruptures of dissonance, and fearless electronic language. At the end of the song there is indeed rattling, but such that might emerge from a large, strange, electronic baby. "Jennifer Plastics" is a wonderful song that features inspired electronic effects; it's what might be heard if eavesdropping on a private conversation between two machines. And "Polyurethane" is a tour de force: it starts with sonorous, melancholy horns, which engage in call-and-response with spare percussive noisework. Then silence replaces the percussion, creating an evocative gap and the feeling of the absence of sound.
Although Barnacled's music often has the feeling of skating on chaos, this is not a free-for-all; these musicians have serious chops, and they can stop on a dime whenever so inclined. This is abundant, adventurous music, played with joy and verve and a healthy touch of mischief.
Track Listing: Title; Rattles; Losing Weight Through Prayer; Jennifer Plastics; Three Rapid Fire Shell Divisions; Language Barrier; Polyurethane; Simulacrum.
Personnel: Frank Difficult: electronics, keyboard; Michael Jeffries: bass, baritone saxophone, modified Speak & Spell; Jason McGill: alto saxophone, percussion, shortwave radio; Matt McLaren: drums, percussion; Alec K. Redfearn: accordion; Ann Schattle: horn in f; Erica Schattle: bassoon.