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The Magic I.D.: Till My Breath Gives Out

John Eyles By

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The release of Till My Breath Gives Out caused something of a ripple to run through the ether—not an earthquake, but a sizeable ripple. The reason? Erstwhile Records, that bastion of "eai" (electroacoustic improv), has released a CD that purports to be pop, even going so far as to specially create a new imprint, Erstpop, for its release. Of course, it isn't actual pop (whatever that is!) but it is a long way from any previous Erstwhile release. The really surprising elements, and the ones that give it that "pop" label, are the prevalence of melody and vocals with lyrics.

This release won't shock anyone familiar with Christof Kurzmann and Kai Fagaschinski's work on First Time I Ever Saw Your Face (Quincux, 2007); and if you aren't familiar with it, check it out. The combination of twin clarinets, subtle electronics and voices seems deceptively simple, but it makes a heady cocktail. The combined effect creates a unique soundscape; after hearing two seconds of this music, it could be mistaken for nothing else.

Margareth Kammerer's voice is the trademark sound of the whole album, its focus. By turns, it is impassioned, then emotionally cool, then detached (in the style of Nico, say); but throughout it is highly expressive. In contrast, Kurzmann's own singing on "Wintersong" has a plaintive, haunting quality. Unexpectedly, this piece is strongly reminiscent of The Incredible String Band; it has the feel of a folk ballad, and the melody often sounds as if it is being invented in the moment. This is a recurring paradox of this music: the songs are finely crafted but also have a spontaneous, improvised feel. On "Martin Fierro," a ridiculously catchy song that truly justifies the "pop" tag, Kammerer and Kurzmann sing call-and-response, Kurzmann taking the verses, Kammerer the chorus; the results are utterly charming.

Fine as they are, the vocals do not dominate the album. In fact, the final two tracks seem like completely instrumental pieces—only for vocals to appear in each as a delightful surprise, a surprise that recurs with each listen. Neither piece obeys the rules of any song form; rather they subtly subvert song form. On "From the Same Road," Kammerer only sings briefly, the piece being dominated by the beautiful melancholy of the clarinet. The closing track, "Loopstuck" (a wittily apt title), the longest at almost thirteen minutes, develops a repetitive, mesmeric quality in its first half, as a simple repeated (looped) passage of strummed guitar and low clarinet builds tension until one longs for release. The release eventually comes in the form of an understated recited verse from Kurzmann, followed by a chorus from Kammerer.

This is a uniquely rich, strange album that deserves to be very influential.


Track Listing: True Holiday; Feet Deep; Wintersong; Martin Fierro; From the Same Road; Loopstuck.

Personnel: Margareth Kammerer: vocals, guitar; Christof Kurzmann: vocals, g3, lloopp; Kai Fagaschinski; clarinet; Michael Thieke: clarinet.

Title: Till My Breath Gives Out | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Erstpop

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