Loons In The Monastery - "Strange Than Truth: Live Recordings 1999" (Sonotrope Recordings 2001, SR009-2)
From Aural Innovations #16 (June 2001)
Loons In The Monastery is an ambient, New Age, experimental, trippy space project from the team of Samuel Claiborne on guitar, viola, whistles, percussion, and vocals, and Jennifer Lowman on synthesizers and vocals. The music sounds primarily electronic but percussion and Claiborne's strings are at the forefront as well, giving the music that added variety that I find makes ambient space music so much more interesting.
"I-Spy" sets the tone for the album with rushing waves of ambient space and various other cosmic sounds, and really nice percussion that has a world music feel. There's some wild tripped out screeches that I'd guess are Claiborne's viola, but maybe the guitar. Eerie howling sounds combined with the screeching strings and steady percussion make for an excursion that is both meditative and slightly hair raising. "Dissonance Is Gliss" and "A Stone From Annapurna" are standout tracks that have a deep orchestral sound I enjoyed. "Dissonance Is Gliss" includes deep tones that rumble in your chest, piercing notes, low drones, and electronic string and horn sections that make for a dark orchestral soundtrack. Science fiction meets the classics for a passionate symphony in space. "A Stone From Annapurna" is an ambient, but cosmically orchestral track. I could easily see Claiborne and Lowman making careers for themselves doing killer film soundtracks. There's great depth, atmosphere, and emotion in their music that conjures up imagery that is simultaneously dark and spiritual. A strange and confusing, but curiously uplifting feel.
And there's plenty more to be found, though "Sugar Tip (Despacio Y Duro)" is a little different with its grungy but trippy bluesy guitar licks and their stinging attack. And "Archangel" features beautiful looped guitar patterns, and the most recognizably "normal" guitar on the album, backed by waves of ambient space. And finally we have "Bad Smells". The entire album is a live performance, and "Bad Smells" has the only vocals (spoken), which involves Claiborne threatening to come out and fart on the audience. Pretty hysterical, especially given that the music is just as beautiful as anything else on the disc. There's also a very Zappaesque bit about Mr Twinkie and some fate that befalls him by Jennifer... I can't tell if it's horrible or erotic, or both? Overall, a really nice ride that fans of electro-acoustic space music will enjoy.
For more information and to hear sound samples you can visit the Sonotrope Recordings web site at: http://www.sonotrope.com.
Stranger Than Truth is available for $9.00 (postage paid) from Sonotrope Recordings; PO Box 509; High Falls, NY 12440.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz