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JAMES BLACKSHAW/THE GLASS BEAD GAME/Review

Fact Magazine UK

It's a hypnotic 18-minute rush that's like vomiting gold, rainbows and unicorns out of every orifice in your head (in a good way), and it's one of the greatest songs made so far this year.

Fact Magazine UK


http://www.factmagazine.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2837
&Itemid=84

James Blackshaw: The Glass Bead Game
Tuesday, 23 June 2009

By Robin Jahdi


Format: CD/LP / Label: Young God


London 12-string guitarist and pianist James Blacksaw looks young, but
between his solo work and contributions to groups like Brethren of the Free
Spirit, he's got over fifteen albums behind him. I'm sure you'll have seen
some news piece or other mentioning the fact he used to be in punk rock
bands, but he grew out of that, and took a lot of time getting really,
really good at his instrument. Of course, the knock-on effect of growing up
is running the risk of blandness, and 'Cross', the first song on Blackshaw's
new album for Michael Gira's Young God label, The Glass Bead Game, is a case
in point. Lavish in its complex arrangement, a magnificently controlled
wordless vocal pipes up that is at once beautiful and disconcertingly
reminiscent of that Lloyds TSB ad. Fortunately, the musical whole is so
well-constructed that such thoughts are kept far from your mind.

It's easy to feel sceptical about this alleged folk renaissance, especially
when you first hear of a musician on Radio 4's Today programme between
stories about fallen MPs and white phosphorus attacks. But then you lose
yourself in the intricate tapestry of guitar, vocal, violin and cello on the
lengthy 'Cross' and 'Bled' and you're sold. Less convincing is the piano-led
'Fix', which sounds like one of Richard James' treated piano sketches on
Drukqs, stretched out to nearly six minutes. It's fair, and strings
eventually flesh it out, but there's not enough to stop your mind from
wandering. 'Key' is similar in length but guitar-based, and with the songs
getting shorter and the quality beginning to dip, you start to wonder
whether that's it for the album.

Thankfully it's not. Closing track 'Arc' is The Glass Bead Game's grand
statement, which like 'Bled', features an introductory motif that eventually
gives way to a largely unrelated song. But it's better than 'Bled', building
so subtly that you almost fail to realise the depth of the layers and drones
locking in place, intertwining and undulating before your ears. It's a
hypnotic 18-minute rush that's like vomiting gold, rainbows and unicorns out
of every orifice in your head (in a good way), and it's one of the greatest
songs made so far this year.

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