The Curtains of Night

Just returned from double-headed Philadelphia art-world shenanigans revolving around James Castle, a PMA retrospective, and a Felsiher/Ollman show. I wrote essays for both, and I got to thinking about the advantages of shorter pieces, and ones about friends. The Curtains of Night are my friends. They just released a new record called Lost Houses, and I wrote this about it.

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When the curtains of night are pinned back by the stars… (The Carter Family)

Then what? An aperture opens, and we see through the transom of night into something blacker, less star-spun, another night somehow twice removed? The opening line sets a stagy scene that doesn’t make much dimensional sense, but then, neither does the impossible depth of the night sky. Stargazing poses the inscrutable question of scale, which is also the fundamental question of heavy metal music. The Curtains of Night, a guitar and drums duo from the North Carolina Piedmont, take their name from the eponymous cosmic Carter Family song. But they earn their telescopic sense of scale from more terrestrial concerns, a dismantling of heavy metal’s macho  mythology and a distillation of the form’s traditional bloat to the leanest architecture of pummeling rhythm and patiently unfolding riff.

The living forest is behind glass, the fauna moth-eaten.
(The Curtains of Night)

The magnitude of their sound, and its miniature origins in the focused dialogue between two musicians, trumps biography. Here’s what you need to know: the music committed to this debut disc was written and performed by two women, Nora and Lauren. That swelling, seismic guitar tone was constructed as well as conjured from the instrument––Nora built her own amp, a bespoke creature with vacuum tubes like sprouting mushrooms. Onstage it assumes a third presence and a personality; on record its spinal drone serves as a clarion call heralding the onslaught of Lauren’s colossal drumming and as a ubiquitous connective tissue that binds and buttresses the songs. The open tunings and spiraling guitar lines betray the banjos Nora also makes and plays outside the Curtains, and the keening banshee dread of her vocals, behind its metallic veneer, may owe something to the grim fire of mountain music. But if it’s the South we think we hear, Lauren further confounds cartography and scale with Lost Houses’ woozy interludes, which migrate to distant sonic spaces amid the atmospheric clatter and funereal chug of subterranean drums.

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead. (William Blake)

No ghoulish horror-film theatrics here, either. “Total Domination” delivers exactly what it posits. At once thuggish and elegant, brutal and sexy, earthbound and phantasmagoric, Lost Houses rejects testicular metal’s face-paint pagan clowning as well as its porny Argento and Alucarda axis of female evil. The Curtains’ avatars live elsewhere, in anonymous heroines who “sleep in armor,” armed to the teeth; in the anxious residents of “ice palaces” and “stagnant seas”; in the tangled wood and in the overripe soil. Listen closely, and loudly––these six dreams dilate and contract, as dreams do, revealing the Lovecraftian landscapes beneath the snarling storm. “Gather the horses,” indeed.

– Brendan Greaves, Chapel Hill, October 2008

“The Tangled Wood”
by Velimir Khlebnikov

Panting horses always closer
Branching antlers always lower
Twangling bowstrings over and over
Nor hart nor help, from hurt and hazard.

A herd of horses shod with Hours
Jangling like thunder, wheel in a field.
Their rugged bodies are rank with Time,
Their flashing eyes ablaze with Days.

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~ by Baldhead Growler on October 13, 2008.

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