The Bastard Wing: Crystal Thicket (2004)

September 16, 2011

bastard wingRoll: 2-9-13
Album: The Bastard Wing,
Crystal Thicket

The Bastard Wing was a relatively short-lived collaboration between Christina Carter of Charlambides and her then boyfriend Andrew MacGregor. I’ve mentionedAndrew a few times in his capacity as a record store clerk  and owner , but he spent the subsequent years in North Hampton carving out a niche for himself as the psych-improv guitarist know as Gown.

Andrew’s music can be challenging. Foxydigitalis.com said of a tape of his I put out on my label, “very hard to listen all the way through on first listen, but it grew on me after a while.” Kristjanne of the band Bash Brothers once observed to me after one of his more abrasively confrontational sets, “Sometimes when I watch Andrew play, I feel like he hates me.”

Truly, Andrew was a pretty abrasive guy back then. Nanaimo, where we lived, tends to bring it out in people. Until you move away, the town gets into your spleen and perpetually spills bile into your bloodstream. It’s not entirely Nanaimo’s fault. Most small cities do. They breed insular and pseudo-supportive art scenes where, like the old saying about campus politics goes, things are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so low. Not that things were terribly vicious when Andrew closed the store and moved away. Things weren’t anything. The town was in a lull. The kind of lull people go into right before being measured for a casket.

The music on Crystal Thicket isn’t abrasive or confrontational at all. Carter’s voice echoes beautifully over chiming, minimalist guitar drones. Occasionally Andrew’s Jandek-esque vocalizations creep up behind, but they don’t break the spell. In a lot of ways, he was a much better musical partner for her than Tom Carter is in Charlambides where there’s always a subtle sense of internal conflict. That’s part of what makes Charlambides interesting, but here the music soars freely with more of a sense of collaboration and support. It’s the kind of record you’d listen to and assume the makers will live happily ever after, perhaps in a thatch house surrounded by toadstools and faeries.

They didn’t. Andrew moved to Nova Scotia and bought a terrifying old farmhouse in Maccan. Christina was supposed to meet him there but she never did. A year or two later, Mandi and I were on our way to the maritimes for his wedding to a local gal who he met while working at a radio station. It was interesting to see he’d shed his abrasiveness altogether and, for the first time since I’d met him a decade prior, he seemed relaxed and happy (no easy feat in the middle of a hectic wedding week).

It was stark contrast to the first time he came back to Nanaimo for a visit. At the time, I was disinclined to be appreciative of his fortunes (working at Ecstatic Peace and living in a hosue with his musical heroes, one of whom, Christina, he was in a relationship with). My emotional judgment was still poisoned by the Nanaimo atmosphere and I erroneously blamed Andrew for the dissolution of my own relationship with a girl he’d introduced me to. He felt she wasn’t being fair to me and effectively ended their friendship which caused a deeper rift between me and the girl. This might have sped up the inevitable conclusion to some extent, but it wasn’t the cause I felt it to be—passing blame was something I was adept at in those days.

That was the atmosphere surrounding my brain when he gave me this CD. I thanked him and didn’t listen to it for years. I also hadn’t had my psychedelic epiphany yet. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I pulled it out and gave the album its proper, unbiased day in court.

For some reason I’d always expected it to be a slab of nearly listenable avant garde discordance. That reason might have been years of being assaulted by Andrew’s unforgiving live shows and having watched more recent The Bark Haze videos on YouTube. This reminds me, I have a bunch of The Bark Haze vinyl Andrew gave me when I was turntabless that I’ve never listened to. Now that I have multiple turntables set up in my house, I should stop being a jerk and get on that. Though not listening to the records we give each other has been the cornerstone of our friendship since we started putting out CD-Rs in the ’90s.

Still, if his recent Gown records and the other collaborations with Christina I’ve been ignoring are as transcendentally beautiful as this, I’m in for a treat.

[Incidentally, if you play the CD in iTunes it comes up as Bastard Wing by Christina Carter, which is actually a completely different solo album of hers. This is a bit of cold move on the part of whoever submitted the track names to Gracenote.]


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