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Serpentine Gallery (Deluxe Edition)

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Album Review

When beauty collides with intellect, whether divine or arcane, the result is always good listening. Subtly sublime and hypnotically haunting, Susan Wallace and Tina Root, the darkwave duo behind Switchblade Symphony, brew an ambitious goth broth on their debut LP, Serpentine Gallery, named after the famed British exhibition hall. Following the lead of surrealist photographer Man Ray, these California girls go for textures of mood beyond the framework of conventional songwriting. Luckily, Serpentine Gallery combines two demos, so the song base is strong; "Fable," which deals with fairies and magic, and "Elegy," which doles out cold, hard reality, come together seamlessly, because the production on Serpentine Gallery supplies a sonic wash that unifies the two disparate ideologies. Sure, sometimes such atmosphere outweighs the melody and leaves the lyrics behind. But all is forgiven, for Wallace and Root are young and their ideas possess maturity and depth. Their unique chemistry and diverse influences explain their popularity with a generation who rarely visits such bizarre realms of beguiling Baroque. Each tune wields enough personality to distinguish itself ("Dissolve" and "Clown" are quite good). Varying sonics and guitar gnashing help "Sweet" soar (not a reference to the gutter-glitter band of the same name, as Root is surprisingly influenced by the vocal styling of Mike Patton). Switchblade Symphony could resurrect the mysticism and eclecticism of vintage Siouxsie and the Banshees. That's a lofty goal, but these are two talented ladies. [The Deluxe 2005 edition features a greatly expanded song list (on two CDs) as well as a radio interview and bonus music video on CD-ROM.]


Formed: 1989

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

San Francisco's Switchblade Symphony formed in 1989, when vocalist Tina Root and composer Susan Wallace were introduced by mutual friends in the local goth music scene. Frustrated with the musical projects they were currently involved in, the duo began collaborating and performing, and soon won a devoted audience. As Switchblade Symphony, Root's musical theater training and Wallace's film-scoring experience showed in their theatrical vocals and orchestrated, dreamlike sound. Early, self-released...
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Serpentine Gallery (Deluxe Edition), Switchblade Symphony
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