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Pelt: Effigy

There are at least 15,000 effigy mounds scattered across the Midwestern USA. Often shaped like local wildlife, these raised earth structures are artefacts of a culture that faded away before Europeans settled in the region. In recent times they've been subject to both misinterpretation (the idea that indigenous folk had constructed them didn't sit too well with the immediate descendants of the people who had taken the area from Native Americans) and outright destruction. Many buildings on the University of Madison-Wisconsin, where Mikel Dimmick of Pelt current works, occupy the sites of former mounds.

Effigy isn't the first Pelt title to honour both the people who are gone and the monuments the deceased devised for themselves; it sits well alongside titles like Heraldic Beasts (2006), Dauphin Elegies (2008) and A Stone for Angus Maclise (2009). But there's something especially potent, at a time when establishment American politics across the spectrum seems determined to ignore or expunge the truth, to name your record for a history that is hidden in plain sight. Effigy's music adheres to practices and principles that Pelt have favoured since the late 90s, when they abandoned rock music in favour of drone based improvisations that reference the sonorities, but not the structures, of trance musics from around the world. The quartet, which is currently geographically split between Virginia and Wisconsin, uses fiddles, banjos, harmoniums, Tibetan prayer bowls and all manner of resonant percussion (including a lustily banged-upon piano) to create sonic vortices that draw the listener into a meditational zone where trivialities evaporate and dishonest words have no place. Nor do any other words; aside from Patrick Best's throat-singing, which arises from a seething bed of string-scrape like some Dhrupad singer honing in on an Appalachian fiddle jam on the side-long "Ashes Of A Photograph," the music remains entirely instrumental. The photograph in question most likely is Jack Rose, the late guitarist who was a member of Pelt for years and played with Virginia based members Mike Gangloff and Nathan Bowles even after he departed. When Pelt played at his funeral, Best gave him a fiery send-off by immolating a picture of him in one of the prayer bowls. Perhaps the huge, looming sound of this piece is his mound.

-- Bill Meyer, Wire