CD Review: 17 Pygmies – 13 Blackbirds
17 Pygmies is the name of the band. Former Savage Republic-an Jackson Del Rey and Louise Bialik’s long-running West Coast outfit started out as a skewed new wave/pop band but has gravitated toward art-rock since. This new cd has been a long time coming, and it’s been worth the wait. It’s a beautifully rustic, mostly acoustic record with vocals by Bialik, austere fingerpicked guitar, autumnal melodies and light percussion in places. Think of it as the thinking person’s alternative to Hem. It picks up steam as it goes along.
The understatedly memorable opening theme, Heavenly Intro is reprised at the end of the initial tracks as Heavenly Creatures. In between, we get the pretty title cut and the absolutely gorgeous Tree of Life (if this is about pot, it must be seriously hydroponic). After that, the stately waltz Get Out!, the haunting 6/8 ballad Water Carry Me with its pastoral blend of guitar, piano and violin and then truth in advertising with A Brief Interlude – more 6/8 time with beautiful fingerpicked classical guitar, sounding like a good baroque classical piece. The next song, 125 History has ghostly vocals set to stark strings; Lila Paosa, which follows, is another quiet pretty song with ringing overtones from the guitars and organ adding just a tinge of disquieting dissonance. Strings come in toward the end and build to a crescendo. Ubi Sunt (Latin for “where are then”) and Heavenly Creatures feature both piano, voice and strings. There are three bonus tracks on the first cd – quite possibly left over from a previous project – which make a good triptych in 6/8: an instrumental with piano and strings, an original song, and a cover of the McCartney chestnut from the White Album followed by a piano instrumental to close it.
This is a double cd: the second one is called 13 Lotus which (seems to be) 13 remixes of the song from 13 Blackbirds. It’s pretty much all hypnotic, sleepy, downtempo, mostly instrumental trip-hop variations except for a rather disturbing version with sirens phasing from speaker to speaker which will quickly have listeners rushing to the window and then wondering where all the emergency vehicles are. It’s all well worth owning and comes in a charmingly illustrated, Edward Gorey-esque double cardboard sleeve.