CROWN LARKS - Blood Dancer
It’s been two years since the debut EP by Crown Larks, a mesmerising and hard to categorise sextet from Chicago. By following their Facebook page, I knew they were still active, but my joy was still overwhelming when they finally released their debut longplayer a little earlier this year.
A lot has happened since the debut. Back in 2013 Crown Larks were still only a quartet. The two new members add trumpet, flugelhorn and even more saxophone to the mix which otherwise consists of guitar, bass, drums, electric piano, organ, clarinet and assorted synthesizers. What I love about Crown Larks is how they don’t care about fashions and trends by playing a music which is deeply rooted in the late Sixties to early Seventies. Kind of like art rock meeting free jazz, with the Soft Machine parallels still present, but also performing with a sweltry languor reminding of The Velvet Underground. Add to that for good measure a healthy dose of experimental kraut rock influences, and you are halfway there. There is of course also a noisy Nineties vibe hidden somewhere in the mix, maybe the more adventurous material by Sonic Youth as a point of reference.
Some bands play strictly composed songs, others get lost in improvisational meandering, but Crown Larks have found the perfect middle ground between those two extremes. It is obvious that the seven songs featured on Blood Dancer have been conceived as songs, but the generous lengths allow the musicians to fall into improvisational fervour, thus unfolding their freer jazz side.
The opener Gambian Blue Wave is already the perfect start into an excellent album. A repetitive bass line is being flirted with by a Miles Davis trumpet. The pace is quite slow, if not downright sluggish, and the lazily delivered vocals feel just right on top of it all, adding to a muggy that makes you believe that the air conditioning hasn’t been working for a long time in the band’s rehearsal room. The following The Timebound Bloos is only three minutes long, and also the shortest track on the album (the other tracks are all about five minutes or longer). This is quite a nervous piece of music with some exploding free jazz parts that feel totally cataclysmic. Blood Mirage is another of the band’s more crawling pieces, hinting perhaps at an affinity for drone and doom metal, minus the metal part of course.
It would take too many words to describe each and every song, but let me point out Chapels, with just under five minutes the second shortest track. This is the one time where Crown Larks stay on the more rigid side of songwriting. If they only had such songs, they might lose some of their attraction, but one catchier piece of music hidden at the end of the album made me smile and happy nonetheless.
Like its predecessor Catalytic Conversion, Blood Dancer is anything but a glossy hi-fi production, but that doesn’t mean that the album sounds bad or cheap. On the contrary, it feels as if the musicians have added a lot of thought and effort into the engineering process, coming up with a product that is boasting a wonderfully warm and comforting sound with vintage retro organs and electric pianos, wild yet never too out of control wind and brass solos, effortless yet pleasant shared vocals, erudite though never show-offy guitar work, this leaving me with the conviction that good music can still be found today.
You have the choice of purchasing a CD, vinyl LP or a cassette tape version, and there is of course the digital alternative for which the band allows you to pay what you want. Support this great band from Chicago. They may still be underground, but have much more to offer than what is generally considered hip today.