A drone album which relies on acoustic rather than electrified instruments, Effigy has a very traditional feel, which is odd for a new album in a contemporary field. Relying on pump organ, accordion, singing bowls ( I don’t know what they’re called), fiddles and a host of other drone-able instruments, Pelt have created a lengthy and ancient sounding record that does what drone is supposed to do but in a Natural sort of way. I say Natural because I hate using the word organic about music, but the choice of folk-y instruments and the way they’re arranged does add up to something that twangs on a different set of strings than the usual set of sounds. By bypassing all the usual drone conventions (synths / effects) they’ve created a fairly elemental sounding record which you can imagine soundtracking many an outdoor psychedelic experience or shamanic ritual. The more I think about it the more I feel this is what the band are aiming for. Naming yourself Pelt and calling your album “Effigy” and decorating the cover with a patchwork quilt style Grizzly bear has to mean something.
So it’s an interesting concept but does it work ? And what does anyone even want from a drone record ? If you put a drone record on and then do the housework, or read a book, then you’re missing the point. I would argue that doing ANYTHING while listening to music defeats the purpose but I’m a freak. Drone works by giving your brain very little in the way of patterns or structures to latch on to, so your brain gets upset and attempts to find some meaning to the sounds you’re hearing. This leads to interesting changes in focus over the obligatory 15-20 minutes of a standard drone track which is why, despite appearances, drone is quite often an interesting and rich mine of musical expression. On tracks like “Spikes and Ties” and “From The Lakebed”, Pelt create a real atmosphere and the tracks seem to evolve and change. However on some of the tracks (“Wings of Dirt” and “Ashes of A Photograph”) I never really came away with any sense of direction. I concluded that this is because some instruments used are suited to drone and some aren’t, specifically the fiddle, which I’m not a fan of for the most part, but stretched over 20 minutes and not really playing anything it drifts in and out of annoying territory.
There is also some serious thinking to be done about how people are going to be listening to this. I have no time for or interest in people who use iPod earphones (cheap, bass-free twaddle plugs) and I feel genuine pain when people send each other music to listen to via YouTube but that’s how most people experience music nowadays. And this is a record which lives or dies in the depth of sonic field which will completely elude the casual listener. But then again, if you’re making a record like this, you’re not exactly aiming for the mass market. So I salute you Pelt for doing something different and taking a few risks on behalf of a minority audience. It may not be a perfect record but it’s surely a memorable one.