Past Salamander releases have presented a band skilled at improvisational space rock but willing to take the occasional startling diversion into psych/folk territory. "Bent Hemlock" inverts the band's paradigm by foregrounding psych/folk, giving the band an opportunity to showcase their abilities as lyricists, songwriters and acoustic multi-instrumentalists. The improvisational component is still present (especially in the album's eerie and cinematic closing track, "An Open Transom"), but for the most part it is employed economically, played out in concentrated doses as short instrumental interludes between concise vocal numbers.To fill out the album's sound, guests feature on cello, electric violin and percussion. Original Salamander drummer Bryce Kastning contributes to two of the albums tracks, both as a percussionist and by recording the initial parts of those tracks at his home studio. Guest strings are beautifully played by Margaret Hegg and Jane Anfinson. "Bent Hemlock" a departure of sorts for the band: a shift of emphasis and an insight into a side of their music that was always there, but not necessarily at the center of their art. Space rock and psychedelic improvisation still figure prominently in the band's live sets, and will doubtless return in future recordings. For now, these new beguiling and revelatory acoustic landscapes show a versatile outfit using all the tools in their repertoire in pursuit of new expression, and coming out the better for it. Change staves off stagnation, and doubtless this fresh approach will inform and invigorate future efforts, whatever those efforts may be.
item # 18346