Review: Interbellum, “Over All of Spain the Sky Is Clear”

Brendan Burke and Fred Lonberg’s quiet, unassuming debut on Flingco Sound flirts with the conventions of both glitch and chamber music, though it obviously favors the latter. Composed primarily of piano and cello performances, Over All of Spain… is a beautiful and mostly pastoral record fleshed out by the minimal use of samples, loops, and other odd sounds.

More than anything else, Interbellum’s music reminds me of a sonata for piano and cello. It is essentially one long piece divided into distinct movements, all of which center around the 21 minute song, “The Life and Death of Anne Zimmerman.” Each of the seven pieces move in a natural way and develop out of one another effortlessly. They are characterized by deep moments of silence and dense stretches of sound, all of which express a yearning for something just out of reach. Just minutes into the album a great sense of loneliness emerges from the music, which develops into a romantic image of a life lived in solitude. Whether or not it was the band’s intent to develop such an image isn’t clear, but the cinematic development of the record is perfectly suited for such a narrative.

Lonberg’s cello performance is marked by long, sensuous notes and hints of melodrama. When he draws his bow across the strings the sound is like a breeze coming out of the speakers on a hot day. It is gentle and light, but very pleasing. Burke’s piano technique is, on the other hand, punchy and full of weight. He does not provide rhythm or a tonal center so much as he dots the I’s and crosses the T’s. His playing lends something of an ambient tone to the music. He often keeps his foot on the sustain pedal of his piano, allowing the chords to ring out almost undetected in the background. When silence or near-silence falls on some of the songs, those notes can be heard humming softly in the background. The tastefully employed samples found throughout the record further emphasize the ambient dimensions of the record. While many of the samples feature distorted or distant conversation, some songs rely more heavily on atmospheric effects and light distortion. Both “Mansfield, Louisiana” and “6EQUJ5” feature essential, non-traditional sounds throughout their duration. While the cello and piano melodies anchor every song, neither of these pieces would be the same if it weren’t for the bits of sound effects and buzz that accompany them.

Calling this a glitch-chamber hybrid is probably a little too misleading, though elements of both are obviously present. Anyone expecting Kid 606 meets Brahms is going to be severely disappointed. It is, however, a highly impressionistic record that utilizes modern techniques in small doses for maxium effect. The album’s freeform aesthetic also happens to be its biggest flaw. The record develops naturally and smoothly, something that fits its demeanor perfectly, but as a result there are portions of the record that drag on a little too long. “The Life and Death of Anne Zimmerman,” while very pretty, could’ve benefitted from some editing. It’s epic scope is impressive, but the lack of instrumental diversity makes it a bit tedious at times. Were the album to have a little more propulsion behind it, it would be far easier to pick up and enjoy. As it stands, listening to Over All of Spain… requires a little bit of patience. This isn’t likely to register on many ultra-hip radars because it’s almost completely divorced from all the stylings that make for an ultra-popular record. But, that’s just one of Interbellum’s strengths. Over All of Spain… is 100% unique and free from any preoccupations with familiar techniques or tired fads. Based on this record alone, Interbellum is a project like few others I can name.

Over All of Spain the Sky Is Clear is available on Flingco Sound
Samples available at Brainwashed.com

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