Tom and Christina Carter, the core duo behind Charalambides, are now in their twentieth year of musical collaboration, but new album Exile – their first together since 2007′s Likeness – only accidentally commemorates this feat. Outlasting even their marriage, the band’s longevity is undoubtedly a significant factor in the unearthly, near-hermetic world that their music suggests and invokes, and Exile is yet another album of haunting and compelling psychedelic and avant-garde sounds. For anyone previously unfamiliar with their work, the way the Carters pace their music requires a signal adjustment of expectations. Most tracks are long and meditative, often incorporating any number of pauses and suspenseful moments of silence where the after-effects of the previous notes are left to hang and resonate in the air – the spaces and silences imbued with as much significance as the sounds that transect them.
‘Autumn Leaves’ opens the album with slow, separated-out guitar notes that twang, then wait, then twang again. At one point someone shifts in their chair and then the track continues, like the slowest-paced Spaghetti Western you’ve ever heard, yet somehow it’s dramatic and suspenseful. More of the same unhurried and aerated gaps punctuate ‘Before You Go’, ‘Immovable’ and ‘Wanted To Talk’, and actually become some of the strongest, most appealing facets of the band’s distinct sound: once accepted and got the measure of, they lend a wonderfully relaxed feel to the album. So, too, with the drawn-out track lengths. Take ‘Into The Earth’, for example, which uses its dozen minutes well by taking its unwavering time, carrying the listener along on its crest of gentle guitar interplay, sweet melody and an emotional and engaging delivery. By the time the electric guitar breaks through into a more assertive segment – ad-libbing, curiously reminiscent of bagpipes, and increasing in intensity – it has been allowed to do so at its own pace, organically rather than just shoehorned in as quick middle-eight or guitar solo interlude.
As ever with the Carters, the guitar lines throughout are consistently skilled and evocative. Twangs, strums, electric riffs or drones and the lovely warm throb of ‘Immovable’ all feature, and all contribute to developing the album’s claustrophobic, intense world. The songs themselves touch on themes of loss (‘Before You Go’) and illnesses, which are seen as a means of relaxation (“She had to calm herself down / by becoming more ill” from ‘Immovable’) or liberation (‘Pity Pity Me’). But it’s ‘Wanted To Talk’ – an intimate, confessional re-creation of a late-night conversation between lovers – that contains what could be the defining lines of the album: “I always try to tell the truth / I always tell the truth as I know / I always get caught up in the truth / I have to think and I have to feel”. If the Carters’ truth frequently makes for uneasy listening (see ‘Before You Go’, ‘Desecrated’, ‘Immovable’ and ‘Words Inside’ in particular), then that does not make it, or this entire microcosm of an album, any less artistic or valuable. Sometimes astringent and shocking, often incantatory and beautiful, Exile is a wonderful summation of twenty years well spent.
[Kranky; October 3, 2011]