Monday, July 5, 2010

Current 93, “Baalstorm! Sing Omega”

“Solitude and contentment are the product
of the mystical; we are never
alone and, by rights, never at peace.
Such is a space that, called
into being, or given,
transforms everything from what we
know it to be, mishandled by
the world, to what it never was, blessed.
-Charles Bernstein, “Amblyopia”

When a new Current 93 record’s coming out it’s a cause for celebration in Sanfordtown, and Tibet and his shifting cast of comrades have been on a hot streak the last few years starting with Black Ships Eat the Sky, but this new one, Baalstorm, Sing Omega! feels like a climax, like the moment when a ritual finally makes the sky crack.  The title combines a line from an Egyptian monk exhorting to “speak omega and do not let omega speak to you”, keeping your eye on the end, the final gambit, and not letting the world own you, as well as Baal, the Egyptian god of storms/thunder believed to have been introduced by the Semitic cultures and his name which literally means Lord.  So you sing omega as the lord’s storm sweeps up, as you feel the wind around you. 

Interestingly, a record made without the contribution of Stephen Stapleton or Michael Cashmore, giving it a much more organic feel, less of that gorgeous gauze to rip through, but once I got used to that, I found I didn’t miss it for this particulars set of songs about a very different dream-storm than that on Black Ships.  Opening with “I Dreamt I was Aeon”, backed almost exclusively by Baby Dee’s piano and organ and John Contreras’ cello, the two utility players of this piece, “I saw her face, / Glory on the sea / And I have come / To draw you / To me”, words amber-sap-slow and getting more drawn out as the organ wooshes like Messiaen and the piano keeps its steady, measured, royal gait, not setting up the melody so much as standing aside it, arms linked, and the cello playing the real melody, slow and sad and confident. 

The arrangements on this give everyone a showcase while still contributing to a cohesive whole, from Alex Nielson’s always note-perfect drums and percussion and Elliot Bates’ oud on the Eastern dance, “With Flowers in the Garden of Fires”, to the vibes, organ, backing vocals and guitar conjuring a cross between an Antonioni soundtrack and ‘60s soul jazz on “Passenger Aleph in Name”, to the fierce tension and almost anthemic quality of “The Nudes Lift Shields for War”.  

The thicker arrangements keep all of C93’s work from seeming like a spoken word record, but so does the fact that Tibet approaches all of his songs as songs, not poetry with separate backing, and his albums as specific collections of pieces with one unified intent. My favorite tracks, and I think the album’s centerpiece comes with the one-two punch of “December 1971” and “Baalstorm! Baalstorm!”.  Tibet’s vocal on the former is a sermon of doubt and frustration, memory as a way to spur on you and send you packing, driven by Contreras’ cello and Andrew Liles’ guitar playing, all clustered chords and gathering clouds, “I thought of her just now / She is there naked like the water / I cannot touch the punch of her lips / I cannot dare to touch / Lip or skin or fold / I gave gold to buy much less / And gave more / And nothing stayed but the storms”, with child’s – or childlike – voices bursting into the narrative, directing him with their exhortations as his voice rises to a roar then drops back to this hollowed-out melancholy. 

And on “Baalstorm! Baalstorm!”  with its faster, more insistent rhythms, a more direct love song to a series of women in his life, from his mother to Jeanne d’Arc who saw “the flames in her mane” to an unnamed You being addressed with “’Beauties of the Beast is / Full of grace – don’t you think? / I’d love to talk to you about everything’ / And then ‘Then I remember our days in Roma / Remember all the words?’” conjuring Horace’s Odes and Joni Mitchell’s “Talk To Me” in one raspy breath.

This record is a record of the storm inside David Tibet and the storm inside all of us.  A prayer and a trip through the museum of art and memory that makes all of us who we are, and as with everything he does, a profound and moving act of faith in love and God and how you find that in apocryphal knowledge as much or more than anything in the canon.