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Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words - Live at Lava / PK365 [Utmarken - 2009]

Live at Lava / PK365 casts a faltering light into the shadows occupied by Sweden’s Thomas Ekelund to reveal two contrasting sides of his Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words project.

Side one is a recording of a live performance in Stockholm from March 2009. Across the four or five movements of the 40 minute set, Thomas’ guitar is permanently drenched in an angry distortion and a grainy reverb that ensure that the loops he creates with a mere handful of sad notes are charged with inconsistencies that thicken the brooding, echoing atmosphere. These minimal melodies of shoegazing tones in Reich-ian repetition are complemented by a slow and steady bass that warms the otherwise frosty cycles. Subtle environmental noises that suggest static, electrical discharge or ticker tape lend a wraith-like charm to the melodic interplay which swells into the more languid and cinematic end of the post-rock spectrum. The combination ultimately builds to a climax that is simultaneously triumphant and sombre with layers of intensity beyond that of one man alone on stage.

The music on the second side also uses loops to gradually build in intensity, but is very different from the live set in that it is free of melodic concerns, instead focussing on industrial ambience. In fact, side two is a re-release of a cassette from 2007, consisting of two haunted tracks of 20 minutes each. The first, Unsilenced, has lots of hiss as a regular bass note delineates a slow cycle of echoes from what could be aging factories or decaying tunnels that extends into a laggardly throb. Metallic shafts of sound coruscate over the top gaining layers in the lower end empowering the movements in the dark to get gradually closer and closer. The second track, ‘Absolute Zero’ follows a similar approach but relocates underwater where Thomas’ looped bass drone is stricken by increasing movements like a submerged electro-magnet dragging the wreckage of destroyed submarines ever closer. The juxtaposition of loops endows the piece with steady breathing qualities that become the only constant as the destructive noises reach maximum volume only to cease abruptly.

While highlighting different aspects of Dead Letters… work, both sides display a unified sense of foreboding, and retain very similar unchanging tempos whose slow pace risks a soporific response. However, with concentration and commitment, listeners will be rewarded by the determined escalations of ghostly and fearful proportions.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Russell Cuzner
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