In A Dark Tongue

Neurosis frontman Steve Von Till reaps the benefits of his home studio and sows confusion on this second release from his other solo project, Harvestman, a name that either evokes the image of some pagan human-deity hybrid, or suggests a great brand name for vegetarian tv-dinners, depending on how serious the listener or reviewer is feeling at the time. This project is experimental in nature, not in the sense of broadening musical horizons per se, rather in terms of Mr. Von Till using his aforementioned home studio to host a small galaxy of instruments, effects pedals and collaborators (including notably Sleep/OM’s Al Cisneros), to play in the fields of the loud, mixing ambient, sometimes noisy new agey soundscapes with heavily layered guitar alchemy, invoking, in spirit, the ghosts of pastoral Americana, by including folk music, psychedelic acid rock and even country/western motifs into his abstract atmospheric compositions.

The result is an album which is interesting, as a view into a celebrated artist’s other sonic dimensions, but rewarding only in pockets due to a lack of the creative discipline of self-editing necessary to really capitalize on the spooky, yet inviting atmosphere Von Till is so skilled in creating, yet somewhat sloppy in maintaining. The sequence of the first four tracks draw the listener into the dark woods with a mixture of warm tonality and stark instrumentation, with the third piece, “Birch-Wood Bower” stripped down to volume swells and owl sounds to set the stage to the methodically delirious creep of “By Wind & Sun”. The sensation is akin to wandering the forest, possibly in a hallucinogenic daze, wondering where those damned drums are coming from, until you almost stumble upon a bizarre yet seductive ritualistic clearing and the weird souls that inhabit it – see Josh Graham’s awesome album art, quickly finding yourself mouthing their mantric chant.

Immediately following from that cathartic moment, Von Till continues to experiment, unfortunately to the detriment of the stage he had so expertly set previously. “Music of the Dark Torrent”, a collaboration with Alex Hall of Grails and the oddly titled John Martyn cover “Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhail” break the spell, the first with it’s eastern influence and the latter indulging in new age country & western nostalgia. That he then returns to the regularly scheduled program is sadly not enough to draw this by-now suspicious listener back in. With respect to both Hall, whose work I am a fan of and the recently deceased Martyn, a songwriter who collaborated with everyone from Nick Drake and David Gilmour to Phil Collins and Eric Clapton; I can say that each piece individually is at the least interesting, but neither works all that well in the context, or concept of the album and project.

With much respect to Von Till, who I am a long-time admirer of, this sophomore effort is a difficult call to make. There are a lot of interesting things going on here, instrumentally and atmospherically and as previously mentioned, in spare pockets a tantalizingly deep atmosphere is offered for the listener to immerse themselves in, creating at times a soundtrack that it is well-worth closing one’s eyes and imagining the cinematic implications thereof. Von Till is an expert at creating tension and building momentum with the variety of instruments, effects and talents at his disposal, a great example on the latter part of the album being “The Hawk of Achill”. Ultimately, the project falls short in that the careful diligence applied to the construction of the parts seems missing from the composition of the whole, though if that can be considered a failing, it is hard to deny that this is possibly one of the more intriguing failures to behold, if that makes any sense. Which it probably doesn’t, but neither does this album, particularly due to the alientating feeling that Von Till may be using this project as a testing/dumping ground for a bunch of good ideas he hasn’t found a place for elsewhere. Still, the man’s skill and genius is enough to convince me that with a bit more restraint and focus, Harvestman could, overall, offer a more nourishing feast, rather than the satisfying, organic snacks contained in this attractive packaging.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by John Gnesin
October 15th, 2009


  1. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    Great review – really well written.

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