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Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh
Overloaded Ark
Drag City Records
www.dragcity.com


In the album Overloaded Ark by Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh less is more and tradition is regressive. Both musicians have worthy credentials - Espvall is of the modern-psychedelic act Espers and Batoh is in the progressive-folkers Ghost - but on Overloaded Ark they backtrack into the past for mostly traditional sounds, and sadly this causes them to become both uninteresting and lacking in enthusiastic spirit.

Overloaded Ark gets off to an average start with the merry and dancy "Little Blue Dragon," a track that, according to the inside notes, is known as "Salterello", a 15th century folk song that originated in Italy. Oddly, it reminds one of something out of a Cocteau Twins record, with its scattering percussion and what sounds like a crumhorn's lighthearted hum. Once also covered by Dead Can Dance, this opener sets up a mood of renaissance fair and may feel appropriate, but it also feels usual for an album of this ilk.

Sadly, the beginning of the album is its most urgent-sounding and is less yawn inducing than the proceeding couple of 10-plus minute original compositions. The title track - a dreary and subdued Indian-sounding song with a little bit of spacey experimentation thrown in - would not even make good background music, while the other, "Until Tomorrow," even beats that one in emptiness. In a nutshell that is also the rest of the record, as nothing really exciting happens in the entire album.

Many will want the duo to have fun and break barriers by crossing their usual modern experimentation with the past. Instead, we are treated only to the past and the music feels more suited for the background of a movie. Yet, since its not, we can instead call it the soundtrack to watching paint dry.

Even in symphony music there is a good climax at some point in the songs that builds up one's anticipation; in that way, the songs like they have a point. In Overloaded Arc, however, the album starts with the climax and settles down into slumber, as if daring you to keep awake to its end so you can get a gold star.

Actually, if you finish the album in one sitting you have earned the patience equal to that of the Dalai Lama. As an endurance test, Overloaded Ark is quite exhausting and as something - anything else - you will realize why this music was like so 400 years ago.

-Nick Schwab

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