Double Leopards - Halve Maen (2006)


How to write about music like this? First the practical elements: Halve Maen is the Double Leopards' second recording for Eclipse. This double-CD reissue from Eclipse is a miniature replica of the long out of print, two-LP version, with a gatefold sleeve and mini insert. There are eight cuts on two discs. It's a handsome package, beautiful even, to hold in your hands. That's about the extent of light for this set, though. From the very first moments of the brief "Sound Holes," the sound is one of an enveloping darkness, and not a gradual one, either, it comes down softly but with authority and takes hold as the twelve-and-a-half minute "Fatal Affront" trips the listener into a fetal position for the remainder of disc one. There is something utterly creepy yet primal and beautiful about the Double Leopards music here. It's utterly new and unfamiliar in the same way Zeit was by Tangerine Dream, and it's as hallucinogenic (not a word to throw around lightly). Tension builds in the quiet, over-slow drones, single syllables by human voices uttering or simply droning. The creepy tension builds and builds and never lets go. Some low-tuned drums enter in "Druid Spectre," allowing for a feeling of entering into something, something ancient, completely unfamiliar, yet both scary and soothing at once. This music dares you in its slow, meandering way to go further, to close out the world around you and go inside. At the nadir of disc one is the 21-minute, "A Hemisphere in Your Hair." At the beginning, this piece pulls back on the creepy crawly dynamics a bit and indoctrinates the listener with spacious drones and atmospherics. It gradually, almost imperceptibly tightens, with unidentifiable sounds like bird calls, open, white noise, droning distorted guitars, feedback, and whispered voices, upping the ante to the point of near unbearable tautness that never resolves; yet there's this dead calm about it all that is inexplicable, and welcoming. The track just ends, leaving one to wonder if listening to disc two is even possible.

Disc Two's opening cut "Viking Blood" is sustained drone and drama, it ebbs and flows, ever moving, into a narrowing downward spiral. That bottom is a place that might be disturbing while listening alone at four in the morning, but it may just be the right environment to take it all in. There is no room in between the clouds for light. In fact, there are no clouds, only an insistent, authoritative darkness. When the noisescape of "The Forest Outlaws" enters in cut two, it's a relief-almost. It too is oppressive and yet makes for a compulsively obsessive listening experience because the ear of the listener is outside the realm of "music listening"; everything one responds to in this music comes from the inside, from the primeval. The dead calm returns on "The Secret Correspondence 1," and it is here where the human voice is an instrument, offering something unspeakable; it's seductive, unfathomable and irresistible, and continues its delirium tremens well into part two, which ends the disc and the album. The experience of encountering this Double Leopards' opus is one of dream and nightmare, one of an aural poetry that refuses answers or summation. In the end there is only silence, the mirror image of what has transpired. It is not ponderous, quiet, however; no more than Halve Maen's sonic bath is; in fact, it's the opposite, it's a deafening roar that quickens the breath with shock after such an exercise -- the tracks on Halve Maen have made it so. This album may seem an excessive introduction to this New York quartet who take inspiration from sources as diverse as the Taj Mahal Travellers and Eno to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, yet Halve Maen is not only rewarding, it is necessary. The Tangerine Dream reference above was no mistake or mere scripted hyperbole: it's solid, and if anything, Halve Maen takes the listener further, ever further into the margins of who knows where.

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