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Album Review: AJ Cornell & Tim Darcy – Too Significant To Ignore

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We’ve always known Tim Darcy had a way with words.  Last year he stunned us with the line “I’m no longer afraid to die cause that is all that I have left” from the song “Beautiful Blue Sky” on Ought’sSun Coming Down.  The band’s first album More than Any Other Dayalso had its brilliant lyrical moments; “today, more than any other day, I am prepared to make a decision between 2% and whole milk” said Darcy in a particularly ironic discussion of his grocery shopping.  With the help of electronic musician AJ Cornell, Darcy’s lyrical talent and vocal delivery have been put in a vacuum.  Gone are the erratic rhythms and bass lines he’s usually featured beside.  Gone is Darcy’s guitar centered songwriting style and vocal hooks.  Replacing the usual Ought set-up is AJ Cornell’s eerie avant-garde electronic backdrop, which has brought a whole new personality out of Darcy resulting in the album Too Significant To Ignore.

AJ Cornell makes music an experience.  On her song Vertige Suspendu, droning synths are periodically met with textural sounds, enveloping the listener in a brooding aesthetic.  Another song of hers,InonouonInoutonin, Acra, is based more on pops, clicks, and vocal sampling.  Throughout her discography, she has developed a brilliant knack for capturing listeners without the sing-able choruses and melodies indicative of Darcy’s past.  It is clear that Darcy respects this talent as he leaves huge chunks of time for Cornell to work her magic.  The last minute or so of Cosmetic Sadness bleeds into Automatic Ecstasy where Cornell is left alone for an entire piece.  Her contrasting bass lines gain momentum into more distorted territory with static frequencies creeping into the picture.  A wall of sound is slowly amassed around the simple start with new sounds pulsating left and right like waves.  On “This Café,” Cornell’s urgent keyboard part is met with electronic snapping.  The second half of the album begins with the rhythmic bass line of “The Space Between Everything,” which is contrasted by the panning, high-frequency keyboard sounds.  The album ends with “Phosphere.”  Air blowing in the distance transitions into symphonic electronic sounds sustaining beautifully into oblivion.  Again Darcy is absent and again the listener is mesmerized.  The sonic design of the album is perfectly balanced with Cornell displaying many different technics culminating in a diverse, avant-garde musical pallet that never becomes stale or lingers on the insignificant.

Cornell’s sonic landscaping techniques run deeper than her performance.  For instance, Darcy’s vocal phrasing operates in a similar fashion to the sounds that surround him.  His voice remains relatively monotone gaining energy into the end of each piece.  The words on “Today, The body” begin methodically with Darcy uttering lines about the state of the body and mind.  The mind is then brought into question with more obscure lines about the absence of bacteria and Darcy’s tendency to “eat off the floor.”  The piece climaxes when Darcy brings up the term rapture, first ironically “not to be confused with drinking too much coffee” then packing a bit more punch “like throwing a slack line of rope with a loop tied in the end of it and dragging whatever it is back towards you.”  As each line is said the energy builds, electronic sounds crackle and screech as Darcy’s words pick up pace, echoing into both sides of the speaker.  Just as Cornell makes her music interesting with the absence of beats and scale, Darcy is confined to spoken word.  Having more experience with this type of artistic limitation, Cornell takes the lead with Darcy vocalizing her concept of musical energy.

The abstract nature of Cornell’s sonic effort is also reflected by Darcy’s lyrical ideas.  The words never deliver a cohesive story or singular idea.  Rather, Darcy values emotional affect and thought provoking themes in his poetic language.  On “This Café (Is Not Anonymous Enough)” Darcy puts himself in a Café where a man yells “Give me those headphones I want to hear god,” a rattling assertion that matches the shocking sound elements.  Alone this line provides a slight criticism of modern day society where people are walking around constantly ignoring the world with their earbuds.  Also, a connection is drawn here to an earlier part of the song where Darcy vividly describes two men in a guided museum tour “looking up at… an image of Christ…hearing all about it wearing headphones.”  The headphones are used to “hear” god by describing the significance of the work of art.  Darcy alludes to a juxtaposition of mundane, everyday objects against the significance of god.  He also may be suggesting that the way people blindly followed god and religion in the past is similar to the mind numbing effect of laptops, headphones, and cafés in modern day cities.  These lines can be drawn into the first song with Darcy’s line about rapture and coffee.  Darcy has to specify that the joy of god is not the same thing as drinking a bit too much caffeine, which ties into his analysis of modern day vices and brainwashing.  By emphasizing themes in this non-linear storyline fashion, Darcy has embodied the abstract nature of the sounds that surround him.

I just love this album.  It’s perfectly unique in its achievement of spoken word and avant-garde, electronic sound art.  The lyrics find humor and thought provoking analysis of modern day life.  The sounds bring you in with their subtlety then shock your ears with their explosive tendencies.  Perhaps most important is the natural feel of the album.  Neither artist is forcing anything, almost like a Pollok painting.  Pollock’s paint spills on the page not tied down to any sense of realism yet there’s something incredible about it, something pure in the emotional impact the work has.  AJ Cornell and Tim Darcy make a perfect team naturally navigating a 40 minute album with a Pollock level of natural artistic talent making for a truly incredible experience.

-Review by Donovan Burtan