Haunted House,
Up in Flames
(Erstwhile, 1999)

Loren Mazzacane Connors sounds on Up in Flames like an unhinged Mark Knopfler, peeling off pinging pentatonic scales and "emotive" bends on his guitar like a bedroom bluesman in a cathedral's worth of artificial reverb. He should be terribly boring for just that reason, but what he does here is actually very involving; he invites us into an oddly postmodern, and very personal, universe where Ry Cooder has gone off the rails and Stevie Ray Vaughan's ghost has written a Beginner's Rock Guitar method.

Maybe it's the very prosaic nature of Connors' playing that makes this music so distinctive. There's a would-be guitar hero on every street who plays like this, noodling mournfully in A minor while waiting for his mum to call him for tea. Or at least, there used to be, 20 years ago, when kids still wanted to be guitarists rather than DJs or video artists or whatever they want to be these days.

He doesn't try to do anything "avant garde" at all; even his chord progressions have the modal predictability that graces and disgraces thousands of home tapes around the world.

So why is this interesting, rather than rubbish? Is it due to some terribly posed irony which would have us listening with a cocked eyebrow and a wry smile playing about our lips? No, it's something else, and it's mostly to do with the partners Conners has assembled for Haunted House and the sounds they make together.

Although the harmonic and melodic language is a slightly less sophisticated version of Brothers in Arms, there's a timbral language overlaid on it like a murky, evil patina, and that makes all the difference.

In a way, the star of the record is Neel Murgai. I have no idea what a daf looks like, but here Murgai sounds as if he's moving heavy objects around and bumping gently into the microphones. A sinister, scraping shuffle occasionally intrudes on the extraordinary quantities of reverb, putting the whole atmosphere in motion like a pressure-wave. Meanwhile, mixed low, Suzanne Langille's voice moans in beautiful, arching lines that are doubled by the reverberation into a phantom chorus.

There's something genuinely eerie about this combination of naive emotionalism and rather distant vocalisation in an ambiance that threatens to drown everything and turn it into a sludge. Very, very weird stuff indeed, then; not alternative so much as conceptual rock, a music that relies on juxtaposition to create an effect which is disturbing and complicated. Perhaps they're a good live proposition, but this is really music to put on at night, with the lights down low, and get freaked-out by.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]
Rambles: 5 October 2002