The collaboration between Baltimorean Greg Malcolm and Coloradan Chad Mossholder known as Twine reportedly occurs almost entirely virtually. That is, the partners trade digital sound files long distance, building a final product that feels considerably more like a two-person project than your average two-person project; the forces at work here are as distinct as triangles and circles. Violets, the pair's second full length for the Detroit electronic label Ghostly International, is a powerful and riddle-laden example.
Like Fennesz, the duo works with guitars and electronics for a somewhat ambient sound, abstraction made rather more approachable by the recognizable instrument. The idea is more heavy-handed with Twine. Electronics--sizzling glitch beats and inky monochrome drones--feel like they exist on a plane parallel to the guitars, which often deliver sad, distant, ringing melodies. The effect isn't bad so much as peculiar. On tracks such as "In Through the Devices" and the lovely "Disconnected," Twine demands your interpretation: what is the relationship here between melodies meant to sedate and please and the sputtering, mechanical percussion meant to provoke? Fennesz, for comparison, is almost perfectly seamless in his use of guitar, something Twine attempts and succeeds at on "Violets," a downcast track with a guitar that submerges itself though indistinct, distorted strums.
All said, Violets is also an exceptionally varied recording. The vocal tracks should be outright excluded from the above discussion. "From Memory" and "Something Like Eternity" feel like brief interludes, as the Cranes' angelic Alison Shaw solemnly sings from what feels like the far side of a large gymnasium in a muddy, Lynchian split between the creepy and pretty. And what to make of the childlike speaker/singer in "Endormine," who intones something certainly gloomy in French over pinpricks of electronic percussion and delicately plucked and manipulated guitar? (Here, the whole guitar/electronics dichotomy exercises enough restraint to be a non-issue.)
Throughout Violets, field/found recordings bob just below the surface of the mix, much of it voyeuristic and depressing. Normally, this sort of thing--bummer clips of people talking over melancholic, atmospheric music--would come off as cliché or condescending, but it works here because Twine's compositions have so much space in them and you don't get the feeling Twine is trying to make a point, more adding textures and filling voids. The perfectly saturated chill is the point, and it's done very well, but the confusions and questions littered so precisely throughout Violets make it really worthwhile.