It's not often The Music Tapes release an album. Julian Koster has has a wonderful and mysterious career as one of the leading members of the Elephant 6 Collective. Alongside his friend Jeff Mangum, he was a driving force in the psych sound of Neutral Milk Hotel. This is no ordinary album, it has Julian Koster's name attached to it, so expect the most unpredictable and creepy album imaginable. I must say, The Music Tapes never fail to disappoint me, this 14 track album has the usual six minute thrillers and the 50 second banjo solos. Same old, brand new.
The banjo drones and minimalistic brass are just some of the highlights on Mary's Voice. The real winner is Koster's vocal progressions and dark lyrical themes. 'The Dark Is Singing Songs (Sleepy Time Down South)' is the first of many quiet tracks. The vocal is brilliant, even if Koster's vocal isn't the most well natured or matured of voices. The banjo, singing saw and brilliant keyboard gives this track a different dimension. It reminds me of Sigur Ros, Daniel Johnston and Bjork's vocal progressions all put together.. With lo-fi of course. Everything about this album sounds comical. It's the kind of music you'll hear at a carnival. 'Saw and Calliope Organ on Wire' enhances my statement. The singing saw and carousel like music is quiet, distorted and almost recorded?? It's different.
'S' Alive (Pt. 1)' has a fuzz bass riff and a nice little keyboard riff, the vocal refrain is nice but ends far too quickly. It leads nicely in to 'The Big Beautiful Shops (It's Said That It Could Be Anyone)'. These track names are far-fetched, are they not?... Anyway, this track has a wonderful Daniel Johnston-esque riff with the fast paced, four notes repeated with no effects. This does change of course, as the song progresses, with Koster's vocal sounding fresh, but at the same time poor. He's not a singer, it's as simple as that. His real skill comes on the tracks such as 'Spare the Dark Streets'. This features a banjo played with a bow. The structure is really creepy and interesting. The brass that follows is expected, and Koster's loud vocal adds... Vocals to the mix. It almost sounds pre-WWII, in one way or another.
It's quite an unusual album due to the odd instrumentation. 'To All Who Say Goodnight' has charming bells, then a lovely banjo riff. This time round, Koster has a more well rounded vocal. It's layered with distortion in places and the bass riff and guitar add some sort of compact sound, momentarily, because the track weaves in and out between a full orchestral sound and a sharp banjo / brass sound. You could say this is dynamical, and I would agree, this is indeed dynamical, I think Koster has this track spot on. 'Kolyada #3' brings me back to my Neutral Milk Hotel loving days, where Koster played the singing saw on the back tracks like a god. This track is a simplistic singing saw anthem. It's light and it's original, if you wasn't to call this original.. Anyway, this is a nice little two minute track to refresh the mind.
We've already taken a look at 'Playing 'Evening''. It's a dense track with thunderous instrumentation with a brilliant vocal progression. Koster also has this track spot on with the Banjo chords and the excellent percussion which is distorted to the max. I enjoy Koster's vocal on this track, even in the harsh loud and aggressive moments when his weak voice is highlighted. It's a rock track at heart and Koster never fails to add the spice and weirdness only he can bring to the table. 'Go Home Again' is a very light track. I can't stand Koster's vocal here. It just sounds like screaming at a very annoying high pitch. The following track 'S' Alive to Be Known (May We Starve)', brings the listener back down to a serious level. The thumping fuzz bass returns with a refrain by Koster. I'm enjoying the percussion and the brass which has personality. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album, and I'm calling it a Julian Koster ballad.
The album closes with my favourite track musically and lyrically, 'Takeshu and Elijah'. Unlike the other Elephant 6 artists, The Music Tapes can be considered as winter music, as apposed to the summer music like Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Olivia Tremor Control. This winter track has a very characteristic banjo riff, with Koster singing a very effective vocal. His most effective vocal on the album might I add. Five minutes in and the track adds a fuzz bass, brass and weird kooky soundscapes to finish the album with some noise. This is what some people may have been waiting for. It's too little, too late I'm afraid, and The Music Tapes will pay the cost of the minimalism, once again. This album has been a great experience, but it's not in anyway enjoyable but from a couple of tracks. You can listen to the other Elephant 6 artists, The Velvet Underground, or Daniel Johnston and you'll take away much more, than listening to Mary's Voice.