Eyvind Kang: The Narrow Garden

The Narrow Garden is a score to a nonexistent film. While beautiful, the album echoes of a grander context that it's lacking.

Eyvind Kang

The Narrow Garden

Label: Ipecac
US Release Date: 2012-02-14
UK Release Date: 2012-02-13

It was in the dark, cavernous drones of Sunn 0))) and Boris that I first discovered Eyvind Kang. On the much-desired Japanese edition of the Sunn 0)))/Boris collaboration Altar, Kang performed on the bonus track "The Sinking Belle (Black Sheep)", which created an entirely different mood than most of the other tracks on the album did. The track's ambiance was deeply contemplative, and largely free of the subwoofer-testing bass that so dominates drone music. Upon listening to some of Kang's other work, I found myself deeply intrigued. "Avant-garde" is a word that most people would use to describe Kang's brand of classically-tinged jazz music. They wouldn't be far off, but at the same time there's something more to his music than merely deviating from the norms of the genres he plays in. At times it's hard to pinpoint in exact terms what this unique quality of his music is, but suffice it to say that Kang's music is wholly enthralling and challenging. Like any genre-bender, Kang is always looking to create challenging, innovative material.

With that in mind, it's curious how much of The Narrow Garden doesn't sound cutting-edge. Much of it sounds quite familiar, actually. The Eastern melodies of "Forest Sama'i" and "Mineralia" are so familiar, in fact, I'd swear that I've heard them in a movie or videogame before. They're quite lovely to listen to, but the familiarity of these tracks is rather stunning, given Kang's propensity for uncommon musical sounds. This is but one minor curiosity that makes The Narrow Garden such a strange listen.

The greatest of these curiosities is the overall sound of the album. I'm not talking about the Eastern melodies that dominate the many of the tracks, nor am I talking about the dissonant, eerie violins that make up the album's best tracks (the unsettling title track and "Usnea"). The album sounds like the sonic background of something else: a film, an art gallery, etc. The album's electronic press kit says as much; it notes that the album sounds like it was composed for a film in how its mood is played out. While this idea can work in theory, here it makes listening to the album a weird experience. Film scores, for instance, work really well when they can be listened to without of the context of the film in mind (Clint Mansell's masterful score to The Fountain is a great example). The Narrow Garden sounds strange without a film backing it, which is unfortunate, as there is no film to back up the music. "Forest Sama'i," for instance, is more befitting of being the background to a scene rather than to listen to for its own sake. The album's darker pieces, "Usnea" most notably, avoid this problem, but for the majority of the record the songs play out like an unimpressive film score. Very pretty, yes, but lacking the uniqueness necessary for the album to work as a standalone set of songs.

A rather interesting parallel can be drawn between this album and a film score recently released on Ipecac: Mike Patton's score to the Italian film The Solitude of Prime Numbers. Patton's score featured a lot of the dissonant, unnerving violin sounds that appear on The Narrow Garden. But what made The Solitude of Prime Numbers such an exciting listen was that I enjoyed it without having seen the film. Here, I'm left imagining what Kang was imagining in his head

The Narrow Garden is perhaps best described as a "floating album." Taken by itself, it has some pretty tracks, as well as some intriguing ones. Yet for the majority of the album I was left wondering what this music was meant to be used for. This means that even if you are taken by the prettiness of the music while you're listening to it, by the album's end you'll be wondering where the music is supposed to go. Hopefully there is a particular reel of film fitting for the often beautiful songs of The Narrow Garden, but for now we're just left wondering.






Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia, East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression (premiere + interview)

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.


Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.


'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.