Twinsistermoon, “Then Fell the Ashes…”

Twinsistermoon - Then Fell the AshesBased in France, Twinsistermoon is the project of Mehdi Ameziane, 1/2 of Natural Snow Buildings. Then Fell the Ashes… was originally released on the fantastic Blackest Rainbow label in 2010. This CD edition features slightly updated versions of the music and one bonus song, “A Fallout Shelter for Memories.”

Release date: 5th July, 2011.

Please consult your favorite record store to request the CD at this time.

tracklist:

  1. Black Nebulae
  2. 1976
  3. Ghost That Was Your Life
  4. The Big Sand
  5. Desert Prophecy [Soundcloud]
  6. Trailer
  7. Then Fell the Ashes
  8. A Fallout Shelter for Memories

 

Sometimes the dark is just the dark. Sometimes there are the things in between. Twinsistermoon fits squarely in that category of things that refuse to fit squarely within a category — confounding and restless, thick and heavy as ocean fog, and just as hard to navigate with any degree of confidence. Great news for those of us who savor a little work now and again. Look, I love ELO as much as the next guy, but you can’t eat pizza everyday, yuknow? Sometimes you gotta have dried fruit and a shot of wheatgrass and feel good about it and actually FEEL good, and wonder why you don’t do it all the time. Which is kind of the right headspace to be in with an epic folk-drone burner like Then Fell the Ashes.

Twinsistermoon is a solo project by Mehdi Ameziane of Natural Snow Buildings, a French duo who have been traversing a similar psych/folk/drone terrain since the late-’90s. The songs here alternate between shorter, psych-folk pastorals and denser experimental drone pieces, a la Birchville Cat Motel or Alastair Galbraith. Most of the folky pieces feature Ameziane emoting in his entrancing, otherworldly tenor — a voice so unapologetically pretty and delicate that I probably listened to the album three times before realizing that Ameziane wasn’t a woman. To his credit, things never get too precious or sweet — the recording quality is murky and veiled enough to keep a slight remove while seeming incredibly intimate and up close at the same time. Haunted folk pieces like “Trailer” and “Ghost That Was Your Life” open up into long-form monsters like the title track, touching on blackest drone, avant-classical piano tinkling, and the darker side of 4AD’s excursions into proto-”hauntological” (barf) gloom and ethno-folk music (This Mortal Coil, His Name Is Alive, and the heartbreakingly beautiful Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares release all come to mind).

Anyone who’s spent time attempting to delve into the worlds Ameziane is straddling here knows that it can easily and quickly become a maddening exercise in endurance. Fortunately, he works both gears incredibly well over the course of a substantial full-length. My initial trepidation at what seemed to be an almost jarring juxtaposition of modes subsided with repeated listens. Then Fell the Ashes isn’t something to be digested and understood at one sitting, nor is it going to serve very well as background music; it demands complete attention. Twinsistermoon has performed a minor miracle by creating a modern compositional/folk/drone album that manages to simultaneously hold your attention while resisting any expectations of what an “album,” as a piece, should sound like. Better still, is a moment that comes about 24 minutes into the 25 minute beast of a title track, where after almost half an hour of slowly building, shifting tonal bliss, Amaziane drops in his unearthly vocals to close out the track. The effect hits like an avalanche, and suggests a potential way forward for the project – one where drone and song co-habitate, instead of just living contentedly side-by-side. It’s a risky move, but you’ll never know what’s on the other side if you don’t jump. – Jon Treneff, Dusted

It’s comforting to know that, after copious amounts of time devoted to intense music listening, one is still able to experience sounds that inspire and evoke genuine excitement, interest, and at least a curiously amusing inability to describe or account for what has just been heard. Then Fell The Ashes…, the new album by Twinsistermoon, manages to do all of these things, which is particularly interesting since it’s actually a reworked reissue of an original version that’s been around for about a year or so.

Twinsistermoon, a.k.a. Mehdi Ameziane, is one half of French act Natural Snow Buildings, and while both acts certainly share a similar aesthetic, they are distinct enough to arouse frustration when attempting to figure out where one ends and the other begins. Both acts specialize in rich, atmospheric drone with a distinct cinematic quality. Both also stubbornly alternate almost exclusively between short, sung acoustic folk songs and long, exaggerated instrumentals, the latter variety being where a pronounced horror film influence can be more immediately heard.

Interestingly enough, Ameziane’s compositions on Ashes, as on past albums, straddle the line between aesthetic oppositions, namely the aforementioned horror element and seemingly whatever that can be assembled in contrast to it. But while horror may be one of the more obvious aesthetic and thematic links between Twinsistermoon’s albums — Ameziane has made no secret of the influence horror films have had on his music and that of Natural Snow Buildings — Then Fell The Ashes never becomes a full-on horror movie, so to speak. All the explicit fright on this album is tempered by warmth, tenderness, and wonder.

“1976,” for example, features some eerie noises that are led by an almost motherly hum (or was that some kind of instrument?), sounding equally melancholic, tender, and unsettling. On “Ghost That Was Your Life,” the third track off the album, Ameziane sings and plays a beautiful melody that’s subverted by a lo-fi texture on his voice that adds a decidedly disconcerting element. “The Big Sand” starts off with haunting voices and drone, shifts in tone to a brighter note, and then leaves abruptly, only to return with the sound of waves and a mysteriousness that ultimately gives way to a beautiful, reassuring strum of the guitar. “Trailer” picks up from where “1976” and “Ghost That Was Your Life” left off, guitar and melody hiding, a hint of the spectral in Ameziane’s unbelievably ghostlike singing.

Sure, Then Fell The Ashes doesn’t veer all that far from the sound of Twinsistermoon’s past recordings. It doesn’t even stray far in sound from the past recordings of Natural Snow Buildings. Ashes simply continues Ameziane’s forays into atmospheric ambient horror film drone folk music (!), as expected. But as has been pointed out before, this is certainly not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all. – Art Ivan, Tiny Mix Tapes

Originally released on Blackest Rainbow, as a crazy limited lp, the latest release from this Natural Snow Buildings offshoot is now available on cd (still probably quite limited). And in keeping with their collector frustrating / completist foiling MO, this digital version features “slightly updated mixes” of the original lp version, and of course one bonus track, available only here!
Twinsistermoon is the work of one half of the NSB duo, Mehdi Amaziane, he of the impossibly high and surprisingly feminine voice, which is in full effect here, soaring and lovely, sounding like some lost seventies folk songstress, while the music underneath definitely touches on classic folk and Appalachia, but quickly moves beyond, culminating in a sprawling 25 minute folkdrone epic that originally took up all of side two on the lp version, but more on that in a second.
The first half of Then Fell The Ashes… is a collection of shorter songs, beginning with a smoldering prismatic buzz, a layered raga like drone, slow building and subtly epic, which gives way to something much more stripped down, tinkling folk melodies and Amaziane’s sweetly crooned vocals. The sound so dreamy and sun dappled and washed out. The record switches gears and suddenly our ears are treated to thick swaths of soft noise drift, swirling voices, a little bit noisy, but it gradually grows more and more orchestral and melodic, before settling down into some tranquil new age shimmer, eventually slipping into delicate Appalachian dreamfolk, crystalline guitar figures, and that voice again, so dreamy and divine.
Then there’s that aforementioned epic 25 minute dreamdrone, a constantly shifting dronescape rife with swirls of warm whirring buzz, shimmery streaks of fuzzed out melody, soft focus chordal smears, layers and overtones, woozy and softly psychedelic, flecked with fragments of steel string guitar, disembodied voices, a gloriously dense and ultra lovely ur-drone that sounds like a folkier, prettier, more delicate Birchville Cat Motel, droney and dreamy and divine.
The bonus track is a gorgeous meditative dronescape. all thick metallic buzz, and haunting chantlike vocals, very haunting and liturgical sounding, lush and layered, and rife with softly swirling melodies, tinkling chimes, and hazy chordal smears, which drifts dreamily, before slipping into a brief bit of reverbed dronefolk shimmer. Gorgeous. – Aquarius Records

Last year’s Then Fell The Ashes… album somehow slipped under our radar, but Primary Numbers has re-released it with updated versions of the songs and a bonus track, and we’re all-ears. “Desert Prophecy” is a work of characteristically bleak folk craftsmanship that invokes the twists and turns of a heart on a threadbare sleeve. –Ian Pearson, Altered Zones

With a few exceptions, most of Mehdi Ameziane’s recording career can be broken down into two simple categories: “great albums” and “albums that would have been great if they had been pared down a bit.” Then Fell the Ashes… happily falls quite squarely in the former category. There is definitely some evidence here that Mehdi is continuing to evolve and improve, but the more important thing is that this is one of the most perfect distillations of everything that makes TwinSisterMoon so unique and wonderful. This is one of my favorite albums of 2010.

I have always preferred the darkly psychedelic drone side of Ameziane’s work to his folkier pieces, so I was quite pleased to discover that the bulk of Then Fell the Ashes… is devoted to his more quasi-ritualistic, otherworldly, and abstract leanings. In fact, the entire second side of the record is filled by one such work, the overwhelmingly beautiful 25-minute title piece. It is hard to make me rabidly enthusiastic about drone music, but “Then Fell the Ashes…” is just staggeringly perfect in so many ways: there is a head-spinning amount of textural activity occurring, it is hugely powerful, it’s filled with great instrumental passages, and it all seamlessly flows from crushingly dense to ghostly to fragilely melancholy without any lapses in majesty or vitality. The sad, oddly-timed cascade of guitar and piano notes near the middle stood out as particularly sublime, but I was also very impressed with how it unexpectedly evolved into an actual song at the end, like the closing credit music of an especially hallucinatory nightmare. I’m a big fan of unconventional song structures that aren’t clumsy or jarring.

While “Then Fell the Ashes…” is certainly pretty stunning from a compositional standpoint, I was equally struck by Mehdi’s skill as a producer and arranger. He weaves together an absurd number of tracks and instruments here, all of which are shimmering, flanging, rattling, swelling, or fading in some way, yet it never sounds cluttered or muddy, just gritty, psychotropic, and enveloping. Making drone music sound visceral, organic, and detached from our time is an art form all its own—I can’t fathom how long it must have have taken him to record and mix such a piece.

The six pieces on the first side maintain a similar level of excellence. My favorites are (predictably) the more drone-themed ones, particularly the massive “Black Nebulae,” which almost seems to breathe in an ominously Lovecraftian way. “The Big Sand” is equally wonderful, though markedly less unsettling. In fact, the coda is almost pastoral, as the howling pagan pipes give way to quivering organs (or treated flutes), field recordings of water and birds, and an elegantly melodic acoustic guitar motif.

The four brief “songs” are pleasant enough in a “tape hiss-damaged recording of Vashti Bunyan” kind of way, but they don’t pack quite the wallop of their lengthier, more maximalist counterparts. I’m glad they are included though; as they’re essential from a sequencing perspective: 50 solid minutes of heavy psychedelic drone would be exhausting. The occasional oases of space and intimacy go a long way towards heightening the impact of the album’s denser pieces. Also, I am pleased that the neo-folk songs are less oppressively sad than usual (“Trailer” could actually be described unironically as catchy). I suspect Mehdi is making an effort to broaden to expand his mood palette a bit and it seems to be an experiment that is working very well so far.

I expect to like every TwinSisterMoon release at this point, but Then Fell the Ashes… exceeded my expectations in every way: it sounds awesome, it doesn’t resemble anyone else, the melodies are great, the heavy parts are elephantine, and it all flows beautifully. Also, it seems like Mehdi is becoming more skilled at finding the ideal lengths for his songs on a case-by-case basis. This is a near-flawless and remarkably listenable album. Anyone curious about checking out TwinSisterMoon or Natural Snow Buildings would be wise to start here. – Anthony D’Amico, Brainwashed

samples:

When journalists mix references to two existing artists to describe another, they are often accused of journalistic shorthand. And when other components are added, the danger is compounded (‘like Band A meets Band B… on acid!’). However, TwinSisterMoon does suggest such a combination – they fall pretty darn close to the mid-ground between a Scottish folksinger and a soundtrack-happy German band. So imagine Vashti Bunyan meeting Popol Vuh late at night in a dark forest, and the result is somewhere in the vicinity of Then Fell The Ashes…

This isn’t the whole picture by a long shot. As intriguing as the above partnership might have been, there is no guarantee they would have come up with something this rich and intoxicating. Appearing only on limited vinyl, Then Fell The Ashes… could have been a lost masterpiece from the early 1970s, sought after by collectors and almost certainly appearing on the infamous Nurse With Wound list. The mix of acoustic guitars, metallic drones and a side-long epic all point in that direction. Uncovering the truth about TwinSisterMoon reveals not only its contemporary origins but also some surprises.

The most obvious surprise is that the lovely cooing feminine vocals come from the only member of the outfit, Mehdi Ameziane – who is, most assuredly, of the masculine persuasion. Ameziane is one-half of the French psychedelic folk duo Natural Snow Buildings, along with Solange Gularte (who also records solo as Isengrind). Ameziane may be prolific, but he seems content with low run editions – Then Fell The Ashes…is limited to 979, a huge quantity in comparison with the 105 originally pressed for his previous album The Hollow Mountain.

The vocals are used sparingly, however, often to lighten the mood between the dronier pieces. The opening “Black Nebulae” sets the over-riding tone with its menacing drone. Listening is like being lost in a wood full of metallic trees stripped of leaves. The sound gradually expands to include a hoard of wailing banshees (not too overt, mind – they are probably stuck in the forest next door). The sinister, jarring effect is leavened by the following track, with delicate acoustic guitar and what could be an accordion (if one wants to stick to national stereotypes). Ameziane sings on “Ghost What Was Your Life”, sounding like an enigmatic lovechild of the aforementioned Vashti and Vincent Gallo. Although the voice and acoustic guitar sound sweet enough, the menacing drone lurks just below the surface.

TwinSisterMoon really takes flight on the two longest pieces. “The Big Sand” cheats slightly by stitching two pieces together, peaking at the midway point with an angelic choral drone. After this, the song gives way to oceanic lull and an analogue synth disguised as a flute, and sounds like an outtake from a Werner Herzog movie. But the title track is the heavyweight contender. Darker, dronier and seemingly unending, it gradually builds on the sounds of “Black Nebulae” and “The Big Sand”, like an incoming tide. The mood lightens over time with a trickling piano and an acoustic guitar, which offer some colour to the texture. Eventually, Ameziane provides a welcome, but unexpected coda.

The interweaving of darker and lighter moods between tracks – and sometimes in the same track – makes Then Fall The Ashes… varied yet cohesive. Fifty minutes of unremitting drone would have discouraged all but the hardiest aficionado. Ameziane’s voice and guitar alone might have proved too twee. Striking a balance between the two results in a rewarding record, which suggests that despite his prolific work rate, Ameziane is not diluting his talent. – Jeremy Bye, The Silent Ballet

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