Listening to Harvestman in the Dark

Hey ladies, who wants to go to the big antler pagan woods thing? Yeah, I thought so.If the creative purpose behind Neurosis is a distillation and that of the solo material guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till releases under his own name is a reverential composition, then the noise-laden drone and effects of Harvestman can really only be a deconstruction. Though the songs on the second Harvestman outing, In a Dark Tongue, aren’t completely obliterated — elemental, often simple melodies remain in many of the tracks, delivered via acoustic or electric guitar — the rye is well lashed and it is plain to see the experimental vision is the driving force of the project. Armed with a home studio, The Crow’s Nest, Von Till is free to fill out these songs with multiple layers and sounds, balancing the creation and destruction against each other.

Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t outwardly violent music. The closest Harvestman comes to straightforward songwriting is probably the 13-minute “By Wind and Sun,” and though Von Till is joined by what’s essentially a full band behind him, the brand of “heaviness” the song presents is more like a Tee Pee Records-style psychedelic drone jam than anything as crushing as Neurosis. Not a complaint. Of the many experiments on In a Dark Tongue, most seem to be setting instrumentation and loops and modulations and manipulations in opposing positions, and with the hypnotic repetition of “By Wind and Sun,” everything becomes intertwined. At the same time, the contrast in “Karlsteine” between the Appalachian dulcimer and the noises and guitar wails that eventually eat it alive is a big part of what makes the song such an interesting listen.

Tree.Likewise, the organic lines of “Music of the Dark Torrent,” meet with abrasive, loud, upsetting feedback that sounds like some kind of horrible telephone disconnection before giving way directly into the folksy, melodic cover of recently-deceased Scottish guitarist John Martyn‘s “Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhail” and the foreboding “Headless Staves of Poets.” There are shifts of mood that come at a moment’s notice and one wonders how difficult it must have been to put In a Dark Tongue together in such a way as to make it flow properly with such an assortment of different ideas. Mostly what holds it in place is the droning and experimental undertones, but with moments that are downright hard on the ear, Harvestman is clearly not a project for those who can’t abide inaccessibility.

Following the somehow even spacier and noisier “By Wind and Sun” companion piece, “The Hawk of Achill” — featuring a guest spot from Om‘s Al Cisneros on bass — “Carved in Aspen” introduces In a Dark Tongue‘s final third with a underlying mechanical drone and thoughtful guitar lines. Its subtle ambiance succumbs to building noise, but the track is too short to really get out of hand. “Light Cycle” as well stays mellow, perhaps to act as a moment of quiet before the more active title track leads to the wistfully melodic finale, “Centre of the World.” A cohesion of tone is at last fully realized, and Von Till closes the record on a nearly soothing note, like a further out Six Organs of Admittance coupled with Tribes of Neurot.

In a Dark Tongue is a deeply felt and satisfyingly presented endeavor that will no doubt please those already long-inducted into the Neurosis cult and anyone outside who happens upon it on the day where they say to themselves, “There’s not enough drone in my life.” Sticklers for verse/chorus songwriting will be out of sorts, but a sincere listen to Harvestman is a rewarding experience regardless of taste or prejudice.

Harvestman on MySpace

Neurot Recordings

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