KRANK 122: Christina Carter: Original Darkness (2008)
In her many releases on Kranky, either solo or with Charalambides, Christina Carter has basically displayed two sides of her aesthetic—primal, wordless music or something approaching familiar, folk-like song forms. In truth the two varieties are not that far removed from each other, as Carter’s overarching m.o. is improvisation and ephemerality as a vehicle for spiritual epiphany. Her music is essentially like a Zen koan—incomprehensible contradictions that,if properly received, might bring you to a new level. Sometimes she succeeds—see Living Contact (KRANK 075) or Charalambides’ A Vintage Burden (KRANK 095). Other times, she doesn’t—see most the rest of her Kranky output, including this album.
Original Darkness gets off to a rocky start. On the opening, title track, Carter seems to have all the elements of a song in her arsenal—a repeating guitar motif, a vocal melody, an organ joining in at the midpoint—but somehow keeps them from ever cohering into a song. Carter performs with a willful amateurism—her overdubbed guitars not quite in sync, her vocal not perfectly in key, her organ strikes a little too aggressive. There is a deliberate lack of finesse applied to what should be a delicate track. On the next two tracks Carter sounds as if she is simply reading straight out of her journal, forcing meter where originally there was none, walking a thin line between song and spoken word poetry. “You are So Far Away” sounds quite literally like a letter to Tom Carter, Christina’s ex-husband and Charalambides partner; the sentiment of her words is intimate and even a bit beautiful, though as a piece of music it is not terribly enjoyable.
In many ways Original Darkness reminds me of the Kranky album that so far ranks as my absolute least favorite, Dawn Smithson’s Safer Here (KRANK 089). Both possess a level of amateurism that makes them hard to sit through. Carter fares slightly better only because it’s clear this is her intention—conceptually, Original Darkness has a stronger foundation. That doesn’t mean the end result is a whole lot better.
The record makes a shift toward the (somewhat) better on “Re-Found Mary,” when Carter moves toward material that more closely resembles her Charalambides aesthetic—minimal, primal, reaching toward another plane if consciousness. As with past material the success of these tracks lies more with the listener than with Carter. You’ve got to be on the same page as Carter in order to find pleasure in her work; she certainly doesn’t extend easy entree into her music.