For their fifth release, Town and Country's Ben Vida (cornet, guitar, harmonium,) Liz Payne (viola, hand bells, Celeste), Jim Dorling (bass clarinet, Harmonium, glass), and Josh Abrams (String Bass, Hand Bells) continue their expeditions into natural music. 5 was recorded at Key Club studios by Jeremy Lemos (Jim O'Rourke) in May of 2003. Influenced by Japanese Gagaku court music, John Cale and Syntonic Research's Environments LP's (to name just a few), Town and Country layer intricate patterns of delicate sounds. The resulting music, much like lace fabric, is rich in detail, strong, and beautiful. It is important to note that on 5 no amplification was used. There were no computers, samplers, or electronics of any kind used in the making of this music. It is purely acoustic. The compositions were played almost entirely live -- the group sitting together in a room with several ambient microphones. There was little to no overdubbing used. Instead, the group made selections from different recorded versions of the songs to get the final track.
The six tracks are evenly divided between sprawling explorations of dynamic rhythmic patterns and subtle tonal shifts. These more "trance-like" songs are "Sleeping in the Midday Sun," "Shirtless" and "Lifestyled." The opening track, "Sleeping in the Midday Sun," begins with an intense droning trio of string bass, viola and cornet. This static space opens up into a bright rhythmic lock made up of triangle, shakera, acoustic guitar and harmonium which is at once mesmerizing and exciting. "Lifestyled" offers a barrage of acoustic white noise that when closely examined reveals melody and intricacy. On "Shirtless," hand bells, shakers and harmonium provide the chugging rhythmic foundation while bass clarinet adds what seems at times to be warm distortion and screaming feedback. Turn this one up and feel its energy.
The other group of songs, "Aubergine," "Old Fashioned" and "Non - Stop Dancer" could best be described as chamber pieces. Mood and melody are what drive these tracks. "Aubergine" is a heart felt nod to Messiean (Quartet for the end of Time seems awfully relevant these days). "Non-stop Dancer" shifts from a four-voice unison melody where gesture reins over clarity to glowing hand bells accompanied by breathy chords. In "Old Fashioned" subtle pitch changes alter drastically the melodic tone and the mood of the piece. These shifts occur over an extended melodic form and although the contrasts are subtle, the moods are rich. There are minor moments of melancholic overtones and major resolutions that resonate with lightness and joy.
Town and Country's compositions are entirely modern. At times their songs have much in common with the intense music of Autechre, Kevin Drumm, Phill Niblock, or Mogwai. What separates them from the above is that Town and Country compose and perform with acoustic instruments instead of computers. It is beautifully unique and rich.