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By Michael Henningsen, Stewart Mason

SEPTEMBER 8, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Thank
!!!!= Heaven
!!!= For
!!= Little
!= Girls

Seam The Pace is Glacial (Touch and Go)

Three full years after the brilliant Are You Driving Me Crazy?, Sooyoung Park and fellow Seamsters--miraculously, an unchanged line-up since the last record--William Shin, Chris Manfrin and Reg Shrader return not with a breakout or breakthrough, but instead with a new record that serves to further themselves as a most viable indie rock force and, frankly, re-establishes them as the most consistent, if overly patient, breath of fresh air in the noise chamber that is the Touch and Go stable. Park leads the listener through The Pace is Glacial with the full-frontal guitar assault that has increasingly marked past Seam efforts, but he also seems to have become settled enough with himself to craft melodic hooks that almost invite the listener into the record rather than relying on his guitar magnetism as a shield between his audience and his lyrical underpinnings.

It's difficult to say whether The Pace is Glacial is any more or less measured and perfect than any before it. It is, afterall, a Seam record, with all the chiming, shimmering and gradual swelling up of chaos into tuneful Nirvana and remarkable control of tension of its predecessors. By turns, then, it's difficult and probably a disservice to simply stick the record in a line-up with the others and describe how it measures up. It doesn't. But, then, it does. In the grand scheme of things, though, The Pace is Glacial represents the tip of the iceberg and a whole lot of it that's trapped below the surface. Patient swells like the extended bridge in "Nisei Fight Song" and the unresolved instrumental "Wig" act alternately as depth charges that eventually explode and diving bells that slip slowly and surely toward some uncharted ocean's floor.

Park's vocals billow out in wispy, whispered clouds of introspection while he and guitarist Reg Shrader lay claim to 12-string symphonies. Manfrin's drums lead, follow, punctuate and carry home rhythms produced by bassist Shin. That the alchemy works is something of a miracle in its own right, but the fact that it has worked over the course of seven years, four phenomenal LPs (including the latest) and a couple of equally impressive EPs is almost beyond comprehension. It takes a certain musical mindset to fully appreciate Seam and their place in indie rock-dom. In that sense, The Pace is Glacial is simply the next step toward enlightenment. !!!!! (MH)

Alastair Galbraith Mirrorwork (Emperor Jones/Trance Syndicate)

For years, my friend Paul Lukas has been raving about New Zealand guitarist/violinist Alastair Galbraith, so a couple years ago, I picked up his EP Intro Version. Lord, was it crap--tuneless fragments of semi-coherent aimless noise. Bleah.

However, it turned out that Intro Version was an aberration. Tracks on friends' mix tapes made me seek Galbraith's other work. I've not been able to track down any releases by his two '80s bands, the Rip and the Plagal Grind (actually, 1993's Seely Girn compilation contains a couple cuts by each), but recent solo releases like 1994's Cluster and 1996's Morse and Gaudylight have shown Galbraith to be a charming eccentric in the best New Zealand tradition. His songs often sound folk-based, partly because he favors modal rather than chordal melodies. Around this folky center, Galbraith favors noisy experimentation, creating unearthly rackets that occasionally part to reveal some gorgeous bit of guitar pop, like on the melodic yet skronky "Song to the Third." Useful touchstones include fellow New Zealand nutters Chris Knox and the Jean Paul Sartre Experience.

Mirrorwork moves away from the more traditional elements of Galbraith's works. It's never as messily self-indulgent as Intro Version, but it sounds as if Galbraith took notes from his brief association with California's Mountain Goats. Like those records, Mirrorwork is a series of miniatures--24 songs in just over 41 minutes, ranging from short ("Filter") to relatively expansive ("Ember"). But unlike Mountain Goats albums, Galbraith keeps things from getting too samey: "Surrender" has a hooky British Invasion chorus, and "Last Air" features beautiful bagpipe-like sounds, while "Rudd," featuring some backward vocals, bears striking resemblance to the more disquieting moments of Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom.

The only problem with Mirrorwork is that while there's some lovely and exciting sounds here, at their abbreviated lengths, very few of the songs feel properly fleshed out. Maybe on the next album, Galbraith will remember how to write hooks. !!!1/2 (SM)

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