You know this: Sometimes a record carries with it a certain kind of promise, a certain potential. The names involved, their individual résumés, and indeed the very laws of nature dictate that what you will hear will be nothing short of astounding. Your heart might even beat faster as you pull off the record’s shrink wrap, fumble to slide the disc into your music-playing device (or while you watch the download bar, whatever the case) and wait patiently for that all-encompassing moment of YES! to take hold.
This self-titled from 200 Years is not such an album.
Here’s what it is: Six Organs of Admittance man Ben Chasny teams with Magik Markers member Elisa Ambrogio for a series of acoustic dirges. Unsurprisingly, Chasny plays beautifully, his spacious arpeggios providing a heart-stopping opening to “Through The Trees” and gorgeous lines during “Solar Systems”. Other instruments appear throughout—harmonium, Chamberlin, organ, or sawed guitar—adding typical touches of poignancy and disquiet. So far, so good.
The problem, though, lies not so much in Ambrogio’s voice but in her approach to the singing. To be sure, hers carries a pretty timbre that perfectly matches the mood of the musical settings. However, most of the time she sings without affect, sounding like an arty undergraduate mumbling poetry at a poorly-attended open mic night, as though she cannot be bothered to reveal the actual feelings that may have inspired her words. So, the reasonably interesting opener “Wild White” blends into its successor “West Hartford”, which blends into the next and then the next. Although it’s certainly refreshing to hear a vocalist avoid over-emoting, it’s more frustrating to hear one who cannot be bothered to emote at all. True, at times she opens up and projects, such as in the beautifully played “Bees” and in the opening moments of many of the songs here, but then it all devolves into the same old monochromatic landscape.
The repetition and sameness of the 10 songs on 200 Years quickly becomes mind-numbing, the painful plainsong wearing out its welcome before the record reaches the halfway point, let alone by the end of its 40 long minutes. Forty minutes. Don’t even talk about two centuries. You really haven’t got that kind of time.