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Eugene S. Robinson and Philippe Petit - Chapel in the Pines

This is the third collaboration between the Oxbow frontman Eugene S. Robinson and Philippe Petit, following The Crying of Lot 69 (2011) and Last of the Dead Hot Lovers (2012). Robinson first worked with Petit as part of Strings of Consciousness, a larger ensemble featuring guest vocalists such as Foetus, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Barry Adamson, Lydia Lunch, Andria Degens and Graham Lewis. This the third in a trinity of releases is by far the most experimental. Petit supplies electronics, electroacousticisms and other sounds to it, aided by guitarists John 3:16 (solo-artist and ex-Heat From A Deadstar) and Chris Haskett (solo-artist, Rollins Band) on a track apiece. But it the dramatic combination of voices ranging from spoken word to hymn singing by Robinson and Percy Howard (a regular collaborator to Bill Laswell) that helps make this so compelling. But it is the subject matter wrestling with religion against the backdrop of the widespread abuse within the Catholic Church which makes Chapel in the Pines so challenging and relevant.

Over the brittle ringing guitar from the appropriately named John 3:16, Robinson voices appears in a quiet murmur seemingly describing a confessional booth distinguishing between "what's not and what's very much good" touching upon sin, amidst wails and howls. His pained spoken drawl and hollers shadowed by the blues infused voice of Percy Howard. The voices continue to entwine as the guitar takes on a Southern post-rock Americana sound as organ rise louder. In the context of Chapel in the Pines 'Augur' is musically restrained relying on atmospherics and chiming guitar ripples but its power comes from the combination of voices.

The experimental sound collage of the following track 'Further Father' is set to a noisy and unsettling electroacoustic setting of rattling and shifting sounds, glitchy musique concrète and tinkling piano notes. "Bless me, bless me... father", Eugene asks over guitar scraping and shredding electronics. Spoken, whispered and murmured Robinson is in prayer, as Howard intones and sings elements of Catholic mass - In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti - over shifting drones filled with feedback and manipulated sonic detritus slipping into an extended passage of discordant drones and atonal guitar scrapes. And when the voices continually return to the repeated refrain of "monster monster monster" you know exactly who it is firmly directed at.

The father, son and holy ghost are evoked on 'Remember Me, You Three', the shortest of the tracks here, and the least musically adorned. It doesn't matter though it's the voices that pack the punch. Thuds chime as Percy Howard sings the first passage: "Could you help an old altar boy, cause I'm down on my luck" before Robinson repeats in drawled drawn out tones adopting the voice of an old man, perhaps he's the young altar boy grown-up. But as Howard continues earlier "we say to no one in particular, to no one who gives a fuck" it seems the Holy Trinity have turned their backs on the sickly, spluttering old altar boy.

The simmering rage of the two vocalists spills over into the two final tracks, unleashing the full force of their fury in spoken word, howls, hymns and spiritual songs couched in Petit's discordant atmospheric and abstract score. Amidst atonal guitar feedback, electronics and clattering Robinson and Howard vocalise separately like gospel preachers. It's all fire and brimstone sermonising, "snake, snake, rattlesnake" they chant in spirited deliveries over waves of guitar scrapings, percussive clanking and buzzing, skittering electronics coming together as an industrialised Gospel revival. Chapel in the Pines reaches its climax in the final track, 'The Restored', an expansive 15 minute piece. Veering from the Howard sung hymns and spiritual songs including 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' and 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus' as Robinson, over swirling and cyclical electronics and shards of discordance, ruminates on the proceedings casting a philosophical eye over the divinity of Jesus and religion. From whispered murmurs to an impassioned rushing of words he questions "Who is it they say I am?". As drone sustains interspersed with harsher bleeps, tones and textures Howard launches into the hymn, 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus' which is woven into the second part as Robinson namechecks Elvis, Descartes and later the saint Padre Pio, rasping and howling as the noise infused rippling drone rings out as Robinson concludes that in the end we are alone. A harsher end passage of organ drone laced with clattering, electroacoustics and swirling electronics brings it all to a close.

The interweaving texts and dramatic voices of Eugene S. Robinson and Percy Howard work well together here, imbuing the music with a pained spirituality. Petit and the other musicians contributions play a significant and strong supporting role. Petit describes himself as a musical travel agent, and his releases can vary widely. Here with his interest in soundtracks the musical setting is atmospheric and at times, unsettling particularly due to his incorporation of manipulated noise layers and electroacoustic techniques. The voices are never overpowered which is hardly surprising given the emotions they exert and the themes they wrestle with. For the final piece in their trinity of releases Eugene S. Robinson and Philippe Petit have created a challenging release in the form of Chapel in the Pines and it is certainly deserving of finding more listeners. For more information go to Fourth Dimension Records