CROWN LARKS - Catalytic Conversion

Crown Larks - Catalytic Conversion

7 songs
24:59 minutes
***** ***
(self released)


Chicago has always been the one American town that you could be sure of to be the breeding ground of great and innovative music. The quartet Crown Larks are no exception! Only a good year after their inception, they have released now their debut EP Catalytic Conversion which is available as a CD, cassette (does anyone even still have a working tape player at home?) and pay-what-you-want digital download.

What really piqued my interest was the mention of Soft Machine in the email sent to me by Lorraine Bailey who is in charge of the keyboards, clarinette and flute. Not only does she play three different instruments, but two of them are rarely seen in rock bands these days. And apart from Bill Miller who is only in charge of the drums, the two other remaining band members also play several instruments: Jack Bouboushian sings and plays the guitar and bass, while Chris Boonenberg has the eclectic choice of the saxophone, zither, bass and keyboards.

The first half of the record consists of the four parted Maloneís Lullaby, and even though the different tracks only range between two and five minutes, they make up for uninterrupted listening pleasure which borrows from so many sources that itís a rewarding challenge for every music aficionado. Deeply rooted in the lo-fi universe, you may not get the most transparent mix, but in this case this works in favor of the band who conjure a magically warm sound that uses a lot of the sonic spectrum of early Soft Machine (letís say mostly their second album with traces of their third) plus the strange hyprid of harsh artiness / arty harshness that recalls the early years of Sonic Youth. The keyboards are often distorted, the weed instruments add a hugely psychedelic jazz component, the vocals vary from hushed undertones to manic screams, and the guitars are there to remind us that Crown Larks are still a rock band.

The second half begins with the six minute long Aquarium, a sluggish piece with a depressive vibe not unlike some of the gloomier material of the Velvet Underground, once again drawing a bridge between dark jazz and lo-fi indie rock, and despite its very unhappy sound an excellent piece of music. This is followed by the three minute long instrumental Blue Lobsters where we once again get an authentic late Sixties jazz rock atmosphere, before the equally short live bonus track 6-5 ends the album on a spectacular free jazz freakout session that could have gone on for much longer, had it been up to me.

Catalytic Conversion is a great debut EP by a hugely promising young band from Chicago. Crown Larks may have been around for only a year, but they are certainly brimming with confidence and talent. Letís hope that a longplayer will soon follow. The first half of this EP is just pure bliss, and even if the second half canít quite keep that same stellar level, I donít doubt that there is much more hidden where this came from.

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