Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
Crystal Beth — Episodic Memory
(7d Media no#, 2021, CD / DL)
by Jon Davis, Published 2022-04-01
Episodic Memory is the follow-up to the outstanding Push Thru (2019), an album which presented Beth Fleenor on her own, with just her voice, her clarinet, and her electronic devices. As she writes in the Bandcamp blurb for the new album, “It's the end of one chapter, and the beginning of the next. It is that very moment when as you turn the page, it is vertical — just for a second — showing you what you just completed and what is to come, all in one glance.” The previous chapter we know from Push Thru, and several of the tracks here present further explorations of what can be done with a clarinet and a voice, now augmented by other sounds. Others move into new territory, largely due to the contributions of Alex Anthony Faide on guitar and bass. The album opens with “As the World Churns,” which begins with a loop of some of Beth’s unique percussive vocals, but then Faide jumps in with some heavy guitar and electronic drums. It’s got a definite Crimson vibe, though beatboxing moves it into unique territory. “Darlin” features a loop of clarinet arpeggios and a vocal line that sounds like a folk song. A massively distorted guitar comes in, low in the mix, to add a noisy edge to the happy tune. On the fifteen-minute “Olivia’s Heart,” she sets up a slow groove with electronic percussion, vocal noises, clarinet, and Faide's bass. Shimmering pads of sound float in and out of range, and a lead vocal part gradually sneaks in, along with some organ-like sounds. These elements then go through variations, sections where one will move to the fore and the others will diminish, then one of the others will take its place. I could go on about the other tracks — suffice it to say each has its own appeal, and none are filler. Episodic Memory abounds with vocal experimentation reminiscent of Björk at her most challenging crossed with guitar that takes after Robert Fripp. It’s an intoxicating blend, and if this is a transition of sorts, I am very much looking forward to what Crystal Beth is transitioning to.
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