|With The Sad Machinery of Spring, the acclaimed band of genre-leaping musical adventurers known as Tin Hat begins a new chapter in their remarkable decade-long career. Dropping "trio" from their name, Tin Hat continues to move effortlessly between styles, creating a new kind of acoustic chamber music that melds elements of jazz, folk, classical, and various forms of American and World roots music.
Despite the departure of founder member Rob Burger, Tin Hat have produced possibly their deepest, most beguiling work with The Sad Machinery of Spring; their fifth album released in their ten years together. Violinist/vocalist and multi instrumentalist Carla Kihlstedt and guitarist/multi instrumentalist Mark Orton have added trumpeter Ara Anderson (of Tom Waits fame) and clarinettist Ben Goldberg to the mix, plus they’ve upgraded the extraordinary harpist Zeena Parkins to fulltime status. With instrumentation ranging from dobro to the massive contra alto clarinet (everyone except Parkins seems to play about 15 different instruments), Tin Hat have increased their already expansive and totally acoustic palette into something even richer and stranger.
The inspiration for this album is the work of Polish writer Bruno Schulz (1892-1942), whose dark, Kafka-esque surrealism makes a nice fit with Tin Hat's lush yet disturbing mix of Eastern European folk, 20th century classical and free improvisation. Titles like "The Secret Fluid of Dusk", "Dead Season" and "Black Thursday" give some idea of the mood. Even during the sprightliest moments, there’s a finely honed dissonance at work which suggests that something not quite right may be lurking in the shadows. This is made most obvious on Kihlstedt’s urgent, breathy rendition of "Daisy Bell" (aka "Daisy, Daisy"), which suggests that Daisy would be best advised to avoid hopping on the back of a bicycle built for two and taking out a restraining order on her would-be suitor instead. Elsewhere the mix of beauty and creeping dread is more subtle. "The Land of Perpetual Sleep" manages to be sinister and dreamily beautiful simultaneously; violin and clarinet trace a wounded, sickly melody over a gentle ripple of harps, dobro and drones, while "Janissary Band" sounds like Stravinsky played by a strangely infernal clockwork machine.
Amazingly accomplished and beautifully recorded work from a group of preternaturally talented musicians. Record of the year material, and it's only January...