Staff Top 10
Top Ten Things to Love About Set Fire to Flames' "Telegraphs in Negative/Mouths Wrapped in Static"


Brevity: When it was announced that the band’s sophomore effort would be a double cd set, I anticipated two 75-minute disks. How delightful, then, to discover that the total release is a perfectly palatable 88 minutes and 13 seconds.


Variety: Sings Reign Rebuilder presented full group performances throughout, leading one to expect much the same of its follow-up. But even though there are 13 musicians listed as members of this potentially unwieldy group, Telegraphs... features a modicum of group performances and emphasizes instead small chamber pieces and solo spotlights.


Instrumentation: In addition to the requisite guitars, violins, and cellos which we’ve come to expect from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and its offshoots, Telegraphs... is supplemented by exotica like hurdy gurdies, marimbas, and what sounds like a glass orchestra.


Production: Recorded at barns in Picton and Montreal, the production style of Telegraphs... mirrors the spaciousness of barren, windswept Canadian countrysides. The openness and clarity of the production gives the whispered hi-hats that count in the drums and cymbal accents on ‘When Sorrow Shoots Her Darts’ an incredibly visceral impact.


Integrity: Far from making a blatant pitch for a broader audience, Telegraphs... sees Set Fire to Flames pursuing an uncompromising and determinedly uncommercial vision, littering tracks with ambient rumblings, seagull cries, hammerings, Ligeti-like strings, creaking doors, and other sonic detritus.


Poignancy: Like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Set Fire to Flames creates elegiac music that is at times almost unbearably sad. The closing piece ‘This Thing Between Us is a Rickety Bridge of Impossible Crossing/Bonfires for Nobody...,’ its chiming guitars swathed in surface noise, is a prime example.


Expectations: While the packaging design and taped musings of an aged raconteur perpetuate a tradition firmly established over the course of prior Godspeed... family recordings, other aspects of Telegraphs... are less predictable. Drums, for instance, don’t even appear until the fifth track.


Delicacy and Restraint: Listen to the nuanced ‘When Sorrow Shoots Her Darts’ for a peerless exemplar of restrained playing and tension-building, and savour the meditative, languid interplay between the guitars at the end of ‘Sleep Maps.’


Stylistic Variety: While ‘Buzz of Barn Flies Like Faulty Electronics’ sounds like an out-take from some late-60s free jazz gathering at some New York loft, it’s succeeded by ‘And the Birds Are About to Burst Their Guts With Singing’ whose gentle music box tinklings couldn’t be more contrasting.


Indeterminacy: I’ll admit I raised an eyebrow the first time I heard ‘Mouths Trapped in Static.’ This nonmusical interlude seemed too disruptive to the overall mood that had been so carefully established in the 80 minutes preceding it. But gradually I found myself looking forward to it as I strained to hear more clearly the inflections, pauses, and timbres of the two persons’ voices. The yearning, compassion, even desperation in the woman’s voice is hypnotic. Who are these people? Where is she calling from? What end awaits them? Such indeterminacies give Telegraphs... a compelling, mysterious quality that enhances its many other strengths.

By: Ron Schepper
Published on: 2003-07-11
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