Recording information: Arkansas.
Express Rising's third full-length album transforms the project from a solo outfit of Chicago beat junkie Dante Carfagna into a trio including Kevin Blagg and William Suran. It also abandons the dusty hip-hop breakbeats and samples utilized in ER's two self-titled albums, opting for live instrumentation, including pedal steel guitar and banjo along with keyboards and primitive drum machines. Mood-wise, the album maintains the forlorn, downcast feeling of the first two albums, perfectly matching the blurry, snowy cover artwork. Impressively, the album's 12 moody instrumentals were improvised and recorded in a single take in a studio somewhere in rural Arkansas, revealing the trio to have spectacular chemistry. One could very easily mistake Fixed Rope for the work of a solo producer meticulously layering tracks and samples over the period of several months. The album perfectly evokes a feeling of spending a long, dreary winter stuck and snowbound in a Midwestern bunker far away from civilization or excitement. While that particular scenario doesn't sound enjoyable, the music most definitely is. One of the album's highlights, "Spirit Darts," demonstrates the trio's skill for combining disparate elements and blending them into a transportive, seamless whole, as it makes banjos and slide guitars sound cosmic and ethereal along with the track's ticking beat covered in cavernous, booming echo. The jawdropping (and brief) "Perishable Looks" meshes out-of-focus piano with gentle guitar flares, creating something otherworldly and softly devastating. "Long Distance Photo" injects a tiny sliver of sequenced synth melody, adding a bit of cinematic drama to the album's icy melancholia. "Fixed Rope" and "Aylmeri Bracelet" both elegantly incorporate distant-sounding strings, and several other tracks use folky acoustic guitars, as well as shoegaze-leaning electric ones. Like Shlohmo's 2015 album Dark Red, Fixed Rope finds a beatmaker successfully shifting from sample-based composition to live instrumentation while retaining the atmosphere that was expertly established on previous works, creating an immensely beautiful and uplifting work inspired by dark times. ~ Paul Simpson