Rhys Chatham - An Angel Moves Too Fast to See (Table of the Elements)

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It's not everyday that an album comes along with 100 guitars and for this reason alone you should buy it. Given that it is a vital artefact of the New York sound of the seventies and eighties, and is bloody brilliant to boot, you'd be mad to let it pass you by.

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Rhys Chatham – An Angel Moves Too Fast to See (Table of the Elements)


 


To be fair, it's not too hard to imagine why you haven't been listening to Rhys Chatham's An Angel Moves Too Fast To See. Until recently it's been an absolute bugger to get hold of. But seek it out now, before it disappears again, as it is an absolute classic, featuring as it does, Bass, Drums and Guitars. One hundred guitars, to be precise.


 


If that hasn't whetted your appetite then I don't know what will. Chatham, it should be said, is a composer working in the post-minimalism tradition. If this sounds rather dry don't worry – An Angel Moves Too Fast To See rocks. Basically, and along with musicians such as Glenn Branca, Chatham sought to merge the ideas of minimalism with the electric guitar. This attempt reached its apotheosis with An Angel (written in 1989) and the result is both ecstatic and hard rocking.


 


The opener, Prelude, is basically a series of shimmering guitar drones. Then the drums and bass kick in. The drums are hard and pounding without being remotely showy. Around them the guitars rock – as you'd imagine there is a huge wall of noise as the differently tuned guitars all play their parts. I suppose that the most obvious parallel to draw would be that of Godspeed! You Black Emperor. For the most part this album sounds like an extension of the sound that they make after the first six or seven minutes of noodling have finished and they decide to make some noise.


 


Intro, the second track, is harder rocking and huge waves of guitars crash over the drums. Allegro has a more friendly sound and beat. It is hear that the sound most obviously crosses over into rock and away from the theoretical underpinnings of modern composition. The result is mind-blowingly good and basically sounds like the best art-rock wig out you've ever heard. Listen to this loud. The word most frequently used to describe this album is ecstatic, and on this track it is easy to realise why. The music simply exists – any crude descriptions such as the Ramones meeting Tony Conrad melt away under the rousing and inspiring sound. I used to think that if I ever tired of hearing the guitar solo on The Pixies' Alison then I'd give up on rock music. Ditto this track.


 


It couldn't all match this level of brilliance and No Trees Left takes the mood down a notch: it removes all the rock, and the minimalism, and leaves a discordant and unpleasant six minutes of noise. For the fourteen-minute finale, Adagio, we are back in Allegro territory. Once again it is definitely rock music, just not as we know it. Here the music, initially easy on the ear is driven into increasingly hysteric shapes before the noise subsides and the rock sounds return.


 


It's not everyday that an album comes along with 100 guitars and for this reason alone you should buy it. Given that it is a vital artefact of the New York sound of the seventies and eighties, and is bloody brilliant to boot, you'd be mad to let it pass you by.


 


Words: Chris Dawson.