Sunday, August 31, 2008

Current 93 – Black Ships Ate the Sky (J)

The kingdom of neofolk hails its king, David Tibet, whose groundbreaking solo project, Current 93, has kept a firm grip at the head of the neofolk movement (with good friends Death in June and Sol Invictus). Throughout its 24 year existence, Current 93 has covered vast expanses of music in his consistent, year-by-year releases, experimenting with industrial/post-industrial, classical, medieval, noise, a capella poetic readings, and, of course, folk/singer-songwriter.

At first glance, the CD cover of “Black Ships Ate the Sky,” one is reminded of David Johnston’s work (see my review of Jandek’s “Ready for the House” if you wish to learn about “outsider music.”), silly, childish, and irreverent, thanks to the crude Jesus in the center, most likely drawn in crayon. Released in 2006 Anno Domini, “Black Ships Ate the Sky” is an in-depth journey into the obsessive madness that is David Tibet.

“Black Ships in my eye! Black Ships ate the sky!”
“Black Ships” features many, many guest vocalists, including (in track order) Marc Almond, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (a personal favorite), Baby Dee, the mysterious Antony, Clodagh Simonds, Cosi Fanni Tutti, and Shirley Collins. Most tracks feature David Tibet’s strange, atonal storytelling voice, but thanks to these guest vocalists, David is able to concentrate more on his songwriting, as well as experiment with different styles within his folk realm, such as Appalachain-tinged blues (note the banjo on the first “Ideumea” with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) and Nick Drake “cluster (jazz) chords.” Think of this album as an expansion on the “Inmost Light” trilogy (“Where the Long Shadows Fall (Beforetheinmostlight),” “All the Pretty Little Horsies (The Inmost Light),” and “The Starres are Marching Sadly Home (theinmostlightthirdandfinal)”).

Emotion and tone on this album range from, but definitely are not limited to, madness (“Black Ships in the Sky”), resign (“Ideumea” w/ Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), and thoughts on religion (“The Autistic Imperium is Nihil Reich”). Tibet’s lyrics have been fairly consistent, regardless of delivery: The earlier recordings reflect his preoccupation with death, Christ, mysticism, Aleister Crowley, Tibetan Buddhism, Gnosticism, Weltschmerz, nihilism, Noddy, and a variety of occult notions. The later to present-day period of Current 93’s recordings increasingly reflect Tibet’s interest in Christian mysticism.
Though most had thought David Tibet had reached his pinnacle long beforehand, “Black Ships Ate the Sky” is here to prove us all that Tibet has many, many more albums left in him. Expect a new release later this year or early 2009.

For fans of: Death in June, Sol Invictus, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Nick Drake, Birch Book/In Gowan Ring, Comus, Agalloch, and much, much more. A very accessible release.

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