Samarkande: ‘Douglas’ Basement’

‘Douglas’ Basement’ is the latest release by Samarkande, the electronic soundscape artists from Montreal who gave us the subtly creepy, yet engaging, ‘4 Cadavres Exquis’ in 2002. In the four years since, they have released a second album, 2004’s ‘Rude Awakening’, and have even been in cards to score the 2005 remake of ‘The Amityville Horror’, featuring Ryan Reynolds.

Not ones to sit idly by as Hollywood makes up their minds once and for all, they have been busy recording and putting the final touches on this new offering, which is a natural extension of their previous works. ‘Douglas’ Basement’ is, in fact, the perfect complement for the two previous records: the duo has taken the best of both worlds, injected some terribly brilliant new ideas and taken us to yet another dimension.

From the opening number, “Catharsis”, we can hear genius at work; not only is it an epic number, but it is very cohesive and fluid. It begins with disjointed readings by Cathy Thibault (who contributed the lyrics) to a backdrop of white noise, eventually moving into a sweeping keyboard arc that Philip Glass would be most envious of, and concluding with a childhood lullaby. The piece is aptly named because the demons that initially inhabit it are exorcised midway and replaced by moments of beauty, while leaving remnants of the chaos once contained.

The title track’s violent strings then lash out from nowhere to wake the listener out of the emotional calm set only moments prior: the crazies have been set loose in this subterranean asylum and visitors will never be the same again. Perfectly at home in a Hitchcockian thriller, listening to this strident ditty while wandering about an ill-lighted or unfamiliar setting would disturb even the most detached individuals.

“Pray Hard But Pray With Care” doesn’t help to settle this uneasiness. With its jumbled noise comes a feeling that, on this album, the darkness will only prevail. Although it is suitably challenging for the pop culture crowd, it certainly is not off-putting whatsoever; anyone who enjoys moody music should appreciate this one 🙂

The final two numbers return to the core concept of the original album, which is an experimental process that they labelled ‘Cadavre Exquis’, after the word game (visit the links on samarkande.ca for more information).

The first of the two, “Cadavre Exquis no. 8 (1<1)” is very spacey, and would not have been out-of place on ‘2001 : A Space Odyssey’; of course, much of Samarkande’s music would have been at home on Stanley Kubrick’s films, as he often used unobtrusively unsettling music to paint his cinematic portraits.

As for “Cadavre Exquis no. 7 (L’arrache-coeur)”, as is the case with many of their compositions, no one could ever accuse Samarkande of being minimalists – and that’s the beauty of their work. For, even when they deal in subtle motions, there is plenty to keep the mind reeling; they weave enough layers together to make each listen a fascinatingly fresh experience. Quite frankly, it’s impossible to describe a 20-minute gargantuan like this one with mere words; it truly has to be experienced to be understood.

All in all, it’s a very very good album. The individual pieces may not always flow well into one another, but with only five tracks in the span of 60 minutes, this is less of a problem than on your average record. Within each number, however, the music pours out in a torrent of inner turmoil. It’s much akin to the awesome beauty of Mother Nature gone mad; it’s menacing, and sometimes violent, but it also amazes quite like nothing else.

And although it will forever be impossible for us to forget ‘4 Cadavres Exquis’ and its shadowy heart, we have to admit that their most recent release sinks its claws deep into our darkest matter.

We give it an 8.0 out of 10

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