Subscribe during February and save 50%.

The Skin of Whippets by Charity Empressa (Review)

Some drone artists may encourage you to tune out and fade away but Charity Empressa’s music engages the listener.
The Skin of Whippets - Charity Empressa

The Skin of Whippets finds Eric Campuzano once again picking up where David Pearce left off, before he started ruining his moonlit soundscapes with bland hip-hop beats. As with Charity Empressa’s stellar debut, The Skin of Whippets seems less concerned with creating “true” drone music. Rather, Campuzano seems more interested in taking the minimalist concepts of drone music (that just a handful of notes can produce a symphony of unlimited variation and beauty) and applying a broader view. In other words, for music labeled “drone,” there sure is a lot going on.

The velvety tones of “Cat Scratch Fever on the Fourty-Five” open the album on a soothing note. But while they may be placid enough, they barely hide a flurry of sonic activity — distant acoustic guitars, bass pulses, and the analog equivalent of snow flurries. The overall image is that of the sun breaking just over a crisp Arctic wasteland for the first time in 6 months, the darkness slowly leaking away as the ice and snow reflects the sunrise in a million different ways.

That’s what has always separated Charity Empressa from other drone artists. While some in the genre may encourage you to tune out and fade away, Charity Empressa’s music actively engages the listener. On the previous album, it was through the use of middle-eastern flourishes and exotic sounds. The Skin of Whippets, on the other hand, employs an almost pop sensibility with “Golden Gate.” Lori Lenz’ dreamy vocals, jangly guitars, and Campuzano’s evocative lyrics, in addition to his well-layered sonics, is reminiscent of the late, great Lassie Foundation.

In contrast to the gentle, almost wistful sounds that open the album, the title track goes for a more violent, overwhelming approach at first. Beginning with a roar that must be the last thing birds hear before getting sucked through a 747’s engine, Campuzano carefully and deliberately molds it into something almost rapturous by comparison. Like a sculptor removing the rough edges from a block of marble, Campuzano strips away the noisier, nastier elements and gradually reveals the beauty that lies at their core. Unfortunately, Campuzano doesn’t exhibit the same amount of care on the following track. It quickly wanders off into some semblance of free jazz, with uneven drumming, blurting horns, and whatnot.

Fortunately, the EP’s closing two tracks are in fine form. “The Missing Man Formation” sets the gentle tones of Richard Swift’s Rhodes piano against a majestically shifting wall of crackling, static-charged guitar drones. At times, you’d swear that simple melody is all that’s holding the noise at bay as it waits, anxiously, for a chance to break through and sweep you away. Although the track could fade into background music, the moment you start paying attention to those gently ringing notes, it’s next to impossible to turn away. “Puxxy” closes the album on calmer note, applying the same sort of audio Gaussian blur that Lovesliescrushing employs. The EP ends on somewhat of an open note, beckoning towards plenty of area left to explore on future releases.

After the sad demise of Absalom Recordings (who released Charity Empressa’s debut), I was relieved to see Velvet Blue announce plans to release their follow-up. And now, with two solid releases under their belt, it’s practically assured that I’ll be picking up anything with their name on it.

Enjoy reading Opus? Want to support my writing? Become a subscriber for just $5/month or $50/year.
Subscribe Today
Return to the Opus homepage