Crystal Beth — Push Thru
(7d Media no#, 2019, CD / DL)
by Jon Davis, Published 2019-11-22
Push Thru is an album built from a very small number of elements. There is a human voice, a clarinet, and a bass clarinet, all handled by Beth Fleenor with the use of a few electronic gadgets to combine them. From such simple building blocks a work of exceptional art and creativity has been made. While there is some overdubbing involved, Crystal Beth’s live shows have proven that she can do this music justice even on a stage by herself. The eight tracks exhibit a wide range of sounds in spite of the means of their production, and that is testimony to her amazing technical abilities. Her voice is an incredible instrument, spanning from soothing clear tones to rhythmic noisemaking to shrieks of primal emotion, often venturing beyond words into a kind of language all her own. Add in her prodigious clarinet capabilities, and she is a one-woman force of musical nature. This is quite literally music from another world — the world inside the mind of Beth Fleenor, and it’s a world where our normal rules don’t apply. Sometimes she’ll beatbox a backing track and then riff on top of it, her voice soaring in broad swoops, rapping in unknown syllables, or cackling and growling. Sometimes there’s a clarinet in the mix, either setting up a cloud of droning tones or dancing above the backing with Balkan fluidity. There are numerous moments of peaceful respite, as with the opening of “Our Piece,” where a lone clarinet wanders in thoughtful lines before setting up a delicate phrase that loops and grows while the lead part darts around nimbly like fireflies in a misty forest. “Dolphy,” as might be expected, features bass clarinet, though it’s fair to say the tune is more inspired by Eric Dolphy than reminiscent of him. It has a lazy swinging groove of a bass line that leads into a blues-inflected vocal parts. “Go Fast” assembles the basic elements into a more accessible form, with beatboxing, chordal backing from clarinets, and catchy melodies. Each track has its own identity, exploring many variations of how to assemble the sound sources. Much music that involves what might be called extended vocal techniques can be difficult listening, and while it’s probably true that some listeners will find Crystal Beth’s music too far from their norms, I wouldn’t call this music “difficult” — it is unique and unusual, but very human and relatable. If you let it soak into your perception without prejudice, it’s like visiting a place of profound peace and beauty, though there are touches of deep sadness and pain lurking in the fringes. The important fact is that the sadness and pain don’t rule the day, and in the end, it’s the peace and beauty that win.
Related artist(s): Crystal Beth (Fleenor)
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