Pitchfork reviewed either Unknown Spin or Joy Shapes a couple years ago, and their nebulous description of the band tempted me to give it the benefit of the doubt. They have since become one of my (admittedly many) favorite bands. That was before the current "folk" explosion, and really any attempt to connect the two is doomed to failure, despite very minor similarities. This is not Devendra Banhart, or Vashti Bunyan, or even close to Espers. Charalambides is a trio (once a duo) of musicians hailing from dusty Houston who have for the last 15 years been making insane trips of albums, differing from contemporary music as much as they do from each other.
This particular album was actually put out in 1992 on cassette as their debut. It's a little shocking to me to imagine this album actually being released so long ago, but then again I feel as if most of Charalambides' music could have come out in the 4th century BC as much as yesterday, assuming they had amps back then. Our Bed Is Green encompasses, in my opinion, the widest range of sounds on a single album put out by these guys, or almost anybody. The tracks can be divided roughly into freaky folky dirges, freaky mesmerizing acoustic trips, and freaky freaky distortion freakouts. It's all freaky, but its also for the most part freaky good. The opening track, "Tea," falls into the dirge category. Some unidentifiable object provides a creaking, insistent beat, as a slow strumming accompanies a quiet woman's voice. Behind that, a whining bowed string of some sort fades into prominence and as the percussion increases in volume, so too does the strumming. The voice sings in English but seems wordless... listening to it now I can't even make out a single word.
I should make it clear from the outset that this recording is so lo-fi as to be, dare I coin a phrase, no-fi. It was recorded on a 4-track at home and the hiss of tape and compounded background noise is clear in every song that has even remotely quiet parts. This is not necessarily a bad thing. On Circulatory System's album and Frances the Mute, among countless others, the crystal-clear recording and expert channel control and production are necessary to bring each layer (of many) to its correct place. In this case, especially on the track "Regret," the hiss simply reinforces the mystic feeling of the songs and their personal, inscrutable nature.
The title track, at the midpoint of the album, is a good example for the mesmerizing acoustic category. Two guitars, or a guitar and a bass, each take an ear and strum it off. It's more of a "tweener" track than the other acoustics, like "Take the Pointing Finger for the Moon," which stands on its own more as an episode, rather than a grounding force. The latter seems like the kind of thing 3 indians might put together in a peyote-fueled improvisational concert, while the former is more like what a couple of men might be playing in their cells right before the hangman comes.
The freaky distortion ear-bleeder tracks are not too numerous but impossible to ignore. From the schizophrenic "The Treadmill" to the cacophanous six minute climax of "Cosmic String", they mark time on the album and remind you that you are not actually present at a meeting of intraterrestrials at the bottom of a well, but in fact listening to an album that is, inevitably, progressing.
I apologize for being verbiose, but I like this band and this album a lot and it's quite hard to shut up about it, in addition to the problematic nature of describing unique music in the first place. In any case, this album has the most songs and the most actual words of any of their albums, and is, generally speaking, much louder. I'm not sure if it's really the best place to start listening to Charalambides, but don't let that stop you from starting in the first place.
I should also mention that I don't think I even have a complete copy of the album - the tracklist at Kranky has quite a few songs I don't know on it, and I'm ashamed to say I have not yet bought the album. I plan to, but I'm continually putting it off in the hopes of finding it, or any Charalambides album in a used pile somewhere.