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Amps for Christ / Woods

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Album Review

Brooklyn lo-fi gutter folk commune Woods and long-running shut-in experimentalist Amps for Christ couldn't be more appropriate for a team-up like this split LP. While Woods have honed their sad-hearted, creaky Internet-era informed folk songs on basement tours and on blog-buzz-approved D.I.Y. releases, Henry Barnes has quietly been achieving similar sounds for decades under the Amps for Christ moniker. Following an amiable split with sludgecore legends Man Is the Bastard in the mid '90s, Barnes embarked on a solo mission, tweaking stringed instruments and electronics of his own creation in recordings of noisy Appalachian-themed instrumentals on small cassette labels. His work was far from flashy, and the vague ties to Christianity and hippie mysticism put off a fair number of would-be fans from the hardcore scene that spawned Man Is the Bastard, but a dedicated cult of devotees followed Barnes' strange and healing music as it patiently evolved over the years. The four Amps for Christ songs here are incredibly similar to his work from 15 years prior. "When" finds zoned-out strings wandering carefully over out-of-control fuzz guitar bedding while "Native Chantz" relies completely on fuzz. Tweeting synths and deteriorating bass tones create some strange antigravity for Barnes' dark distorted guitar leads. Barnes sings only on the soft U.K. folk-influenced "Lord Bateman (Child #53)." The traditional folk form meets Barnes' distinct circuit-bent noise in a sprawling meditation. Woods offer four brightly ramshackle tunes, up there with their best efforts on standout records like Songs of Shame. "Sleep" is a dreamy amble of Grateful Dead-like falsetto vocal harmonies and lazy percussion, drifting by in the same carefree stoned hitchhike as the Amps for Christ material. "Wind Was the Wine" finds a more traditional pop structure applied to a brief nugget of urgent melodic wonder. Most of the songs from each band are short, with the exception of the obligatory ten-minute album-closing jam of "September Saturn." While this goopy burner isn't as self-indulgent or unnecessary as most extended jams of its kind, it still ranks as one of the least remarkable of the tracks. The weakest spot on this split, disappointingly, is the one collaboration between the two acts, "From Oatmeal to Buttermilk." The droning sitar-led instrumental juggles barnyard percussion, buzzing oscillators, and hazed electronics in a B-grade raga for two short minutes before puttering out. The track isn't given enough time to develop, but also feels more than long enough in its brevity. This flawed meeting of the minds aside, both bands are in top form. For two groups coming from such different worlds and even eras, both seem cut from cloths that transcend all the details of their origins, allowing their glowingly gentle sounds to complement each other pretty close to perfectly.


Formed: 1996 in Claremont, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Electronic primitivist project Amps for Christ was primarily the work of Claremont, California-based Henry Barnes, formerly of sludge metal/hardcore legends Man Is the Bastard and harsh noise offshoot Bastard Noise. An outlet for Barnes' interest in polyethnic folk traditions and faux-Celtic mysticism, Amps for Christ proved equally distinctive for its use of custom-built guitars and electronics, recording with a number of occasional collaborators, including vocalist Tara Tikkitavi, percussionist...
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