Mamiffer, the duo of Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner, have recorded with a slew of artists who work in similarly contrasting fields of noise and music, but this is the first true work with Pacific Northwest neighbor and the world’s loudest school librarian, Daniel Menche. A previous release, "Live" Through Menche featured him reworking Coloccia and Turner's recorded work as a performance, but Crater is the first time they have truly worked together on record. A mix of live instrumentation, processed field recordings, and who knows what (other than the artists), the resulting record is anything but boisterous, explosive noise and instead a careful meditation on both nature and music.
The album's bookending pieces, "Calyx" and "Maar," make for the two most conventionally musical songs on the album. Both feature Turner's guitar and Coloccia's piano playing complimentary melodies, as processing (by I assume the hand of Menche) pushes both into distorted, at times abrasive territory, and then back again. Even though the resulting sound is by no means traditionally beautiful, that hint of chaos is a splendid additional facet to the songs.
The lengthier pieces that make up the core of the record feature significantly less in the way of traditional instrumentation. The dynamic, textural opening to "Husk" is culled from the field recordings with little to no treatment, but retain enough ambiguity to render them largely unidentifiable. Expanding tones of fragmented guitar are layered about, with shifting pitches keeping everything varied. While the piece never becomes overly sinister, there is a distinct heavy tension running through its 14 minute duration.
On "Exuviae," the trio uses a more obvious field recording (that of rushing water) with distant drumming and shimmering, droning expanses of sound. Hints of distortion color what sounds like bowed strings, but the sound stays beautiful, if a bit dark. A nuanced analog sound is heavily featured on "Alluvial", with subtle cracking blended with ghostly tones and chiming church bell-like layers. The piece evolves in to a massive leviathan of shimmering noise and orchestral drama that is as imposing as it is beautiful.
Compared to the rest of the album, "Breccia" shows less evolution and development, but it is in the subtle changes that it is very strong. An opening of what sounds like scraping wood makes for a murky beginning, soon met with a processed wall of guitar noise. Filtered and kept at bay at a reasonable volume level, it is less of an outburst than it is a forceful counterpoint to the ambience. While what sounds like a wall of dissonance is established via guitar and electronics from Turner and Menche, Coloccia adds in an ever so quiet layer of twinkling piano that beautifully ties the entire piece together.
For a record that was created by, as Menche puts it, friends just hanging out, recording and then eating pizza, Crater has a massive number of layers, both sonically and in mood as well, that belie its humble origin. Moods shift from gawking at beautiful soundscapes to disquieting, imposing monsters of heaviness lurking in the shadows. But never does Crater drag, and there is not a dull moment to be had as these three amazing artists perform together brilliantly.