Crystal Mass

THE TEAR GARDEN

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Cover ImageRelease date and tracklist

Oct 24, 2000
CA CD Nettwerk W2-30158

  1. Lament – [MP3]
  2. The Double Spades Effect – [MP3]
  3. Desert Island Disc – [MP3]
  4. Hopeful – [MP3]
  5. Castaway – [MP3]
  6. Her Majesty’s Trusted Food Taster – [MP3]
  7. Feathered Friends – [MP3]
  8. To Mourn The Death Of Colour – [MP3]
  9. Six Of One – [MP3]

 


  • Credits
  • Edward Ka-Spel – voice, keyboards, electronics
  • Cevin Key – electronics, keyboards, drums, percusssion, tapes
  • Dwayne R. Goettel
  • Ryan Moore – bass, keyboards (1), acoustic guitar (3)
  • Niels Van Hoorn – flute (7)
  • Martijn de Kleer – acoustic and electric guitar, violin
  • The Silver Man- keyboards
  • Frank Verschurren- engineer
  • Russell Nash – scanmaster (7)
  • Bill van Rooy – hand percussion (5)

 


Notes

Initial pressings had songs 4 and 5 erroneously combined onto one index track.


Reviews

Follow, if you will, the scientific formula that makes up the element known as The Tear Garden. Elements called Hilt, Doubting Thomas and Cyberactive spontaneously burst into existence with the common Key molecule, alongside an element known as Download, made up of cEvin Key, Phil Western and Bill Van Rooy. A separate element known as The Legendary Pink Dots boils in its own beaker across the ocean in The Netherlands, but when the molecules from these two bands spill into one recording studio, the result is the Crystal Mass of The Tear Garden.

Evolving out of a creative union between Key and Pink Dot Edward Ka-Spel, Crystal Mass counts all of the Pink Dots (Ka-Spel, Ryan Moore, The Silverman, Nils Van Hoornblower and ex-member Martijn de Kleer who has since re-joined the Dots), as well as Download (Key, Western, Van Rooy) in its number. The Tear Garden has put out an album every four years for 16 years, but they always “seem to have a shortage of time,” says Key, in making each album. Not this time. “Edward gave me the go-ahead in June of ’98 to start this album,” says Key, and it didn’t get finished for a year and a half. It’s one of these long-distance relationships; it’s like a long-distance phone call every day that you try to accomplish your life with.”

“We recorded it in so many different bits and pieces and parts,” he continues. “Ryan, the bass player from the Pink Dots, first came over [to America] for about a month and a half, then there was a break. The engineer from the Pink Dots, Frank Verschuuren, came over, then Edward came over for three days and we laid down some vocals. Then I went over to Holland for three weeks, recorded some stuff there, came back and mixed and assembled all the pieces from all those times a year and a half later. This was the most fragmented, but we really had a fun time finishing it off.”

Working at Key’s Los Angeles-based subConscious Studios, as well as Van Hoornblower’s Studio Klaverland on a beautiful nature reserve in Holland, The Tear Garden has created an odd pairing of acoustic and electronic textures in Crystal Mass. “The Tear Garden is usually our acoustic influences coming out,” Key posits. “All of us were really into Pink Floyd and all sorts of psychedelia. When you’re not using drum machines and synthesizers, you tend to stroll into these regions. We were inspired by Can, Faust, all sorts of early German bands, but most of the latest Tear Garden stuff has been fairly acoustic. In the beginning, we did more electronic stuff, and this is a blend of the beginning, a return to the electronic world.”

With songs oscillating from 3 1/2 to 12 1/2 minutes long, Crystal Mass shifts from pure pop (the ’70s-sounding, toe-tapping “Where You Gonna Go?”) to moody, dark worldbeat tracks (“Juiklo”) and back again, much like the constant vocal shift from deep, growling, spoken lines to high-range melodic, sung verses within one tune. Ka-Spel’s singing is akin to classic Psychedelic Furs, The The or David Bowie, with hook-filled, memorable melodies sounding familiar on the first listen. Yes, hooks. Crystal Mass is a natural progression for The Tear Garden, one which stands to introduce this hybrid element of musicians to an unsuspecting new audience. -source unknown

***

Though Skinny Puppy’s sonic exorcisms will always remain the high water mark of Cevin Key’s 18-year affair with fringe electronic music, the industrial deity continues to provide soundtracks for those who feed on the darker, more psychedelic sides of dance and pop. Although his current output can grow tedious, as in the case of Crystal Mass, the latest release from Key’s longtime Tear Garden project (which includes Edward Ka-Spel, Ryan Moore and other members of Holland’s Legendary Pink Dots). The album finds the collaborative pushing Key’s ominous soundscapes into the background on most cuts, relying on meandering pop melodies and Ka-Spel’s detached, passive vocals to get the mood across. Though the album’s final two cuts — “To Mourn The Death Of Color” and “Six Of One” — achieve the synergy between spooky ambient and psychedelic pop that made past Tear Garden efforts engaging, Crystal Mass limps too long on the trail of monotony before reaching its stride. Key’s remaining genius is better displayed on Effector, the fourth album from his Download outfit (this time with Phil Western). Like current sound sculptors such as Plaid, Download uses irregular beat structures, sparse melodic pulses, and eerie ambient noises that entrance with audio expressions of claustrophobia and paranoia. The Autechre-ized breakbeats on “Carrier Tone” and “Ayahuasca” slice through the amoebic washes of sound, while the hypnotizing dub groove of “Affirmed” provides a steady undercurrent for an alien melody, revealing a surprising mastery of subtlety from a musician noted for his music’s intense, undiluted emotion. – M. Tye Comer, CMJ

***

The Tear Garden’s ‘Last Man to Fly’ quite simply changed my life. It was that single album that set me on a course of music. I hold it, as well as their other work, in the highest regard. Obviously, then, I had been eagerly anticipating the new release from the band that began as a Legendary Pink Dots and Skinny Puppy collaborative effort ever since it was announced that they planned to reconvene for a new record. However, this also meant that I would be quite difficult to impress. When ranked against absolute classics, would the new work stand on its own or would it remain a pale shadow of their previous triumphs? The Tear Garden have thus far carved themselves a unique niche in music with their emotionally expressive and intimate records. This sound would be too easy to repeat and it seemed possible that the Tear Garden could find themselves in a rut with no new ground to cover. With ‘Crystal Mass’, they have not only eradicated those fears, but also contributed yet another classic record to my collection.

The album makes a bold stylistic statement from the very first note. “Lament” begins purely electronically; a departure from the previous record’s primarily acoustic sound. Though not entirely a surprise (early reports indicated a move back to electronics before the album was even recorded), this is a definite departure and, to some, a welcome return to the sounds of the first EP and album. The track quickly settles into an arpeggiated synth line reminiscent of “Ophelia” and the propelling bass line lends it an upbeat vibe not unlike “In Search of My Rose”. Rounding out the mix are some gorgeous and laid-back guitar work from Martijn de Kleer and some atmospheric synths. With this track, Edward’s voice appears to have hit a new high point. The care he gives to intonation and phrasing is unparalleled and his voice is controlled and understated. A beautiful chord progression, reminiscent of ‘Last Man to Fly’, gives “Lament” a foundation and cements the connection to the band’s earlier work.

However, the difference of approach to production and mixing which lies between Dave Ogilvie on the earlier records and cEvin on these last two (with Frank Verschuuren on ‘Crystal Mass’) is plain just from this single track. ‘Crystal Mass’ and ‘Angel’ have a much more ‘up front’ and ‘down to basics’ mix than the earlier records. Before the song’s close “Lament” surprises us with a triumphant bubbling figuration of the main synth line, ending the song on an emotionally positive note.

“The Double Spades Effect” invokes a rhythm somewhere between folk-rock and tribal drumming. Edward is again subdued as his voice floats amidst background atmospherics, loops, and tapes, recalling ‘Tired Eyes Slowly Burning’ distinctly. Martijn’s violin work is an asset to the band and his guitar experience shows as he exploits the timbre of his instrument. The band really grooves here with the bass, live percussion, and violin driving the track. Overall, this song falls well into the Tear Garden’s proven approach of ‘modern day troubadours’, but does so using new elements

The positive vibe of the first two tracks is broken by “Desert Island Disc”, which begins with an ominous and mysterious atmosphere. I can best describe the mood as driving alone down a deserted highway at night. Ka-Spel addresses the listener with images of forgotten faces from the past. An acoustic guitar plays a riff similar to that of ‘Ascension Day’ but in a melancholy context, harmonized by simultaneous electric guitar. Martijn’s electric guitar on this track is particularly lyric and expressive. The liquidy percussion is detailed and intricately produced. The more lively chorus interrupts the midnight drive like the comfort of a familiar song on the car stereo, but that hopeful quality gives way as Edward’s ironic lyrics darkly indict the listener “this is your life and it’s over.” The spooky track teases us with salvation, but returns us to its dark origins. However, this is but a mere harbinger of what is yet to come.

“Hopeful” returns the album to more familiar territory. With live acoustic drums and a progressively folky sound, this song that could easily fit on ‘To Be An Angel” Lyrically and musically the song has a palatable sense of dismissive warning, as if Edward is informing us of an oncoming doom, but half-heartedly as he knows we will not head it. “Hopeful” has infectious progression making for a successful track within the context of the album but it is the confrontational lyrics which make it a valuable contribution to the band’s canon.

“Castaway*” follows with a tribal rhythm in the style of “Tasteless”, augmented by non-western percussion instruments. The bass line illustrates cEvin and Ryan’s mutual interest in dub and reggae more than any other track. Swimming in the mix is a synth sounding a bit like ‘Music for Cats’. Edward’s filtered vocals are disarming and disturbing so shortly after the positive mood of much of the previous material. As wonderful as this track is overall, the jewel in its crown is Martijn’s guitar solo, which can only be described as searing. The percussion pulls at the solo’s rhythm and again a lot of attention is paid to the rhythm production. “Castaway” retains the disturbing mood of the previous tracks.

“Her Majesty’s Trusted Food Taster*” brings us out of the somber mood of the past few tracks with an uplifting groove carried by live drums and percussion carefully treated with a variety of effects. The electric guitar introduces the chords and when the synths respond in kind we take off. If “Desert Island Disc” was driving alone at night, “Food Taster” is the grandeur of a bird in flight beneath the warmth of the sun. The glow of this track is carried as the guitar gently wraps itself around the chords. This track is simply magnificent, however its placement between some other very dark songs robs it of its potential effect.

“Feathered Friends” begins with a noisy and hostile rhythm that builds itself out of Dwayne’s “Burnout” and what sounds like a gating effect. A gorgeous fracture of melody responds and suddenly we are thrust into a grinding rhythmic loop that establishes a very dark tone. The bass, guitar, and drums pick this up as they develop a threatening and nerve wracking groove. When Edward’s staccato almost rap-like voice enters, we know this will be unlike any other Tear Garden track we’ve ever heard. Edward’s vocal is angry and grimy, building to his dismissive refrain “it’s for the birds”. Never before has he sounded so menacing. Martijn’s electric guitar cuts into the mix, frothing with evil portents. Niels guests with his perverted and processed flute. This twist into a threateningly dark, almost violent, tone is simply one of the most shocking surprise turns I’ve ever heard an album (or project) take. In my mind it was completely unpredicted, however, looking back at the previous tracks on the album, it seems that this mood was always looming in the distance, waiting to explode here. Thus far I had felt that ‘Crystal Mass’ was quite a good Tear Garden album with enough new elements sprinkled in to be more than a mere rerun of past works. When I heard “Feathered Friends”, I realized that ‘Crystal Mass’ reached a whole new level for the band.

“To Mourn the Death of Colour” brings the bile of “Feathered Friends” to its inevitable somber conclusion. Edward’s voice is that of someone depleted from a long journey, a journey not unlike that of the listener of this disc. Edward seems to give in, saying “switch it off now, let me sleep”. Along with the slow, dramatic backing this illustrates the depths of depression. The emotional pair of this and the previous track is, I believe, one of the highlights of the Tear Garden’s overwhelmingly amazing oeuvre. The track winds down and begins to decay into an instrumental collage very reminiscent of “Last Post”.

The ending of “Colour” would seemingly be the perfect moment to end the album, but perhaps it is best not to end the record on such an emotionally low note. “Six of One” could easily have begun as a Download track, with its midtempo heavily electronic groove. The track is somewhat akin to “Empathy with the Devil”, owing mostly to Edward’s edgy vocal attitude. The danceable rhythm and layers of synths are reminiscent of the first side of ‘Tired Eyes Slowly Burning’ but the funky guitar work by Martijn and bass groove by Ryan give it a much freer feel. This is a great track which adds a biting tone to the album, but perhaps belongs elsewhere on the album. However, the main body of the track is followed by a warm, ambient segment that ends the album perfectly.

All of the band members are in top form for ‘Crystal Mass’, with highlights belonging to all. Edward’s always enrapturing voice is at a new level (as also evidenced by his recent solo album, ‘Red Letters’). Martijn’s return to an electric guitar style in the vein of ‘Last Man to Fly’ allows him to shine, as does his violin. The detailed drum and percussion production is indicative of cEvin’s best work. The only major disappointment is the unfortunately minor involvement of Niels Van Hoornblower, who was responsible for so many wonderful moments on ‘To Be an Angel’ The sequencing of the tracks seems a bit less than optimum, hampering some of the delicate transfers of emotion. While it would have been easy for the Tear Garden to record another album in the style of their past works the reemphasis of electronics and the surprise transition to a dark mood of ‘Crystal Mass’ sees them exploring a new path in their continuing musical journey. This album is simply a must for all Pink Dots, Skinny Puppy, and Tear Garden fans. Those who were more intrigued by the collaboration’s earlier electronic work than their last album will most likely be pleasantly surprised. Fans of cEvin’s work in Download may enjoy the ‘technoy’ approach to some of the more electronic tracks. I believe this album is a must-have not only for LPD and Skinny Puppy fans of all tastes, but for all smart music fans.

*It seems quite possible that in addition to the mastering error of tracks 4 and 5, the song titles for “Castaway” and “Her Majesty’s Trusted Food Taster” were reversed in the track listing. For the sake of clarity, I have used the titles as they appear on the artwork here.

– Corey Goldberg, Litany.net 2000


Lyrics

LAMENT

Merciful angel
You’ve always been there
When it all got too painful
I was mad with despair
Lying down in the ruins
Tied with wires to this chair
You’d just point to a new star
I’d follow you there
I’d follow anywhere

Follow blind ’cause I trust you
I’m willing, I’ll dare
What I don’t see won’t hurt me
I’ll follow you there
I’ll follow anywhere

Calling you now ’cause it’s worse than before
When I look to the sky I see only a door
And it’s black and it’s bolted and it’s locked from inside
So I guess things have changed, you have something to hide
You’ve something to hide

You were the way, and the truth, and the light
Thought you had all the answers
I’d follow you blind
Follow blind ’cause I trust you
I’m willing, I’ll try
What I don’t see won’t hurt me
So give me a sign
Give me a sign

THE DOUBLE SPADES EFFECT

Don’t try to bluff
I’m wearing these shades
I anticipate the moves that you make
I’m calling you now
I’m watching you sweat
I’m shaking you down
If I were your friend, well, I’d hit you now
I must stay ahead
I’m checking the scores, beginning to end
It’s you who shouts more
But me who has led
Yet you’re shouting more
We’ll come to the end, and I’ll lose this war
Oh you’ve changed the law
Yes you’ve changed the law
Less is more

DESERT ISLAND DISC

Can you recall that little boy with blood-red hair
He’d kick your chair, he’d twist your arm, he didn’t care
Did you ever wonder what became of Billy-Boy?
Wonderboy, the teacher’s pet
Come in Billy, take a seat
Let’s hear about the fun you had
This is your life
This is your life
Shake Billy’s hand, kiss Billy’s wife
This is your life
Remember George, who took it all against the wall?
As George the Frisbee, George the Ball?
He’d whistle as he’d fly
And you’d stand by and cheer the guys on
How’s your karma?
Did you ever wonder what became of Rubber George?
This is your life
This is your life
Shake Georgie’s hand, but watch his knife
This is your life
Remember Joan, you met her on the phone
That night alone you felt frustrated
Joan, the she-wolf in the shower
Always in the shower
Did you ever wonder what became of Joan the Moan?
This is your life
This is your life
Shake Joanie’s gland, kiss her wife
This is your life
And it’s over

HOPEFUL

What if the demons are dying, but fighting as they fade?
What if this last big battle is just a shadow-play?
What waits on the other side when the fear has gone away?
Was it all for nothing?
Will they stand there laughing?
Will they see you naked?
Where’re you gonna hide?
If you can see it coming you’d better be prepared
Cast your fate on the wind that’s blowing through your hair
Walk upon this fragile world like you’re walking on air
It was all for something
They will see you laughing
They will see you naked
Nothing left to hide
Fear has gone away

HER MAJESTY’S TRUSTED FOOD TASTER

This one’s frivolous, it’s laughing
Laughing loudly on my tongueI think (???) but sadly
Sadly it’s me who gets the crumbs
I shall nibble with respect, ma’am
I shall pass on all the rest, ma’am
Lick your fingers, I shall crawl, ma’am
Crawl up to you on my knees
I get the peas, I get the peel, I get the pips, I pass the rest
A lovely service, but confess
Now did you cheat while playing chess?
Rattling sabers on your breast, ma’am
This job’s okay, but has no prospects, ma’am
I get the peas, I get the peel, I get the pips, I pass the rest

CASTAWAY

Raised by wolves, abandoned,
Forced to stalk you, haunt your neighborhood
But full moon shocked, they raised their rifles
Lights of eyes on stronger
Slipped through cracks across your wall
Scrape the sand now from your souls
And eat your heart out
And it’s cold
See me – you won’t see me at your door
I’ll be howling with regret
There is no pleasure
Can’t forget the faces or the fear, the fires
See me – you won’t see me at your door

FEATHERED FRIENDS

Smoky Joe’s done firing, no use hosing the remains
Now we’ve got drunken heads and charcoal bunnies, funky frosted flakes
Now we’ve got lava lamps, the toast is coasting, blocking all the drains
And me and you wound up as effigies and made the hall of fame
We are shouting, we are shouting
We are screaming
We are screaming, ahhh
I guess there won’t be a model like those folks in old Pompeii
Like Tutankhamen, Cutthroat Canyon, Darby’s Dungeons in Marseille
With kiddies poking and provoking, scratching, fucking (out again?)
Now we are shouting, we are shoutingWe are screaming, we are screaming, ahhh …
We’re your heritage, a monument wonderfully preserved
They came to see us by the thousands but we never ever heard
Now I really need to scratch
It’s torture that these kids have gone
(And except them?) for the birds
For the birds …
I’m shouting, I’m shouting
I’m screaming, I’m screaming, for the birds

TO MOURN THE DEATH OF COLOUR

Been here long enough now, I’m fighting the effect
Through many sunsets, dancing bones, gargling architects
A night that’s old, a floor that’s floating
I’d like to make a bet
That you will drag me to your room
My bloody bride
And get me bleeding for the pill
The precious pill, so switch it off now
Switch it off now, and let me sleep
Switch it off now, I’m sick of counting sheep
Switch it off now, I’m down here on my knees, saying please
The needle is a lady, and a lady needs respect
With trembling hands, she feels uneasy, she’s liable to fret
And then to punish, then to tease
She’d strip you, shoot you in the knees
But she will never ever leave
Switch it off now, let me sleep
Switch it off now, I said I’m sick of counting sheep
Switch it off now, I’m down here on my knees
I’m saying please
Please …

SIX OF ONE

Take me to the other side
Take me on a joyride in a plastic capsule
Wash it down and wish the day away
The fear of flying’s creeping slow
Can feel that paranoia seeping through these palms
Two lifelines winding somewhere out in space
And now I’m choking in this seat, A-33
But please believe me,
It could be a throne if you were here with me
A touch is all I need
But I’m alone, your picture bleeds for me
What exactly do you see in me?
Or I in you? Or I in you?
In our dreams we can connect
In our dreams it all seems perfect
But when morning comes, there comes the dive,I’m half alive, just half alive
And I divide …I’ll shout into the chasm of your despair
Your pleas will be answered with echoes
Me, mocking, mimicking
I don’t forgive
I can’t forgive you for clinging onto my coattails
Pulling me down into clinging mudInto your pit
Into your past
Into this half-world
And if I could, I’d cast you aside
But I carry your pity
You infect me, you live inside me
Squat on my shoulders, press me down
So stand up, fight me if you dare
Be a man, divide
I said, be a man, divide

 

 

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