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April 18th, 2007 Michael Byrne | Music Stories
 

Valet, Blood is Clean (Kranky)

Valet's debut elicits chills of the best and most timeless sort.

     
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IMAGE: Sara Meadows
[AMBIENT HAUNT] We should expect nothing less than a devastating masterpiece from such a talented, prolific figure as Honey Owens, a.k.a. Valet. And Blood Is Clean—which was re-released internationally last week by Chicago's renowned post-everything label, Kranky—is just that. It's a devastating masterpiece of pulsating psychedelic chill, slippery haunting drone and solemn tribal percussion. Consider an empty, crumbling, mountainside Tibetan monastery. If it had a red-draped backroom lounge, Blood Is Clean is the sound that would seep from it.

Likewise, the record's title track is certain to seep into listeners' dreams, creepy swirls and all. It's the most aggressive of the album's nine tracks, punctuated by the line "My blood is clean/ But the devil lives inside me." It's at this phrase that the record moves from a ghostly ambient drift of layered vocal drones and bent-to-oblivion guitar lines into something truly and deeply arresting. A kick drum starts in, as does a simmering guitar line that sounds like what riding inside of an electrical cable must feel like: jagged, acidic, cold. The track alone is simply brilliant, even before considering the almost too perfectly timed train-engine wail that's become a watermark of inner-Southeast Portland bedroom recordings (which this is).

Owens—a figurehead of Portland's continuously ripening ambient scene (and sometime member of Jackie-O Motherfucker, Nudge and Dark Yoga)—trails "Blood Is Clean" with a wonderful, eerie few minutes of junkyard clatter (broken musical toys, found percussive objects) on "Burmajuana." Dark, slow, loungy bass progressions then take over on "Tame All the Lions" before the record reaches a definitive (for both Owens and Valet) point with "My Volcano." It's a sublime appropriation of the freeform blues-folk reconsiderations that made Jackie-O's Flags of the Sacred Harp—not to mention many Owens-involved electronic-based ambient projects—so wondrous. Its crescendo of deepening, droning organ, bent guitar notes and heavy, increasingly layered and looped strumming elicits pure chills.

But "My Volcano" is still merely the climax of a record built upon such chills. Every track here is a wonder of dark possession. It's been almost a year since local CD-R label Yarnlazer originally released Blood Is Clean, but the record is already aging like the Gregorian chants its tracks glance upon: gracefully, or not at all.


Blood Is Clean comes out Monday, April 16.
 
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