MV & EE - Space Homestead
Considering the drawn, laid back, slacker infused quality of their self- described 'Lunar Ragas', it could perhaps come as a surprise that in the past decade Vermont duo Matt Valentine and Erika Elder, under the moniker MV & EE, have released more than 30 albums. Over these ten years the pair have explored sonic experimentalism and freak-Americana with varying degrees of obtuseness, from 20-minute dronescapes released on their own Child of Microtones label, to 4-minute nuggets of crafted - but still skewed and bizarre - slices of Neil Young-esque country jams that have attracted notable admirers such as Thurston Moore & J Mascis, who have released albums by and recorded with the band respectively in the past. Their latest set, Space Homestead seems to lean towards the latter of these two creative poles.
As is perhaps in keeping with the nomadic suggestions of the albums title, the nine tracks of Space Homestead were each recorded in different studios, something that is fitting given the transitory and ethereal feel of the songs, that are laced with reverberated lap-steel, distant harmonies and snatches of feedback that cut through what is at heart an album steeped in an organic blues/Americana tradition. After the opening ambient drones of 'Heart Like Barbara Steel', the album kicks into gear with 'Workingman's Smile', a vintage slice of drunken country rock with acoustic and electric guitars effortlessly circling one another while Valentine and Elder duet across loping percussion and mournful harmonica. It has the same spontaneous feel that made Tonight's the Night or On the Beach such great albums in the Neil Young discography, the idea of musicians in the moment, feeling their way through a melody or a riff.
This stylistic approach runs through the whole of Space Homestead. 'Shit's Creek' twangs along like a slice of classic Leadbelly, complete with out of time footaps, and a weird buzz that I can't even begin to place. Then at the other end of the spectrum, the country-lilt of 'Wasteland' segues halfway though into an ear-splitting guitar solo that is the equal of anything from the Dinosaur Jr. canon in terms of ferocity. Even when attacking 'traditional' song-structures MV & EE don't take the road well traveled, preferring instead to paint layers of swirling vocal lines and oscillatory feedback across the tracks on Space Homestead. This can be very effective at times, such as on 'Too Far To See', where Valentine's fuzz driven guitar jamming is given a sinister twist through the use of stabs of distorted sounds and buzzing percussion. However, on other occasions the strong melodical undercurrent of a song can be lost behind experimental overkill. 'Moment' starts off with truly beautiful promise, but ends up becoming something of a throwaway track due to the over-reverbed and as a result unintelligible vocals. Similarly, there is a gloriously bleak acoustic segment in the album's closing track 'Porchlight', but to get there, there is a rather large and unnecessary passage of ambient noodling to navigate.
Overall, Space Homestead is a strong, cool and engaging body of work, but I'm left with the feeling that if MV & EE could only have reigned themselves in a tiny bit more, and let the song-writing craft at the heart of the album push the forefront, this could have been a set that really opened them up to the wider audience that the musicianship on the album clearly merits. But then again, perhaps that's not the way of this prolific space-Folk duo, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.