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Labradford: Mi Media Naranja (1997)

February 9, 2012

Mi Media NaranjaRoll: 3-5-4
Album: Labradford, Mi Media Naranja

In the late ’90s I used to fall asleep to this album. Labradford‘s blissful take on Morricone‘s spaghetti western soundtracks is as lulling as a breeze whistling through cactus needles while the sun sets gently beyond the Arizona horizon.

At least that’s how I remembered it. When I put it on one afternoon a few months ago, my partner Mandi came into the room saying, “Can you hear that horrible sound? What is that?”

And, yes, there was a truly awful, eardrum eviscerating sound in the room. I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I thought maybe someone was cutting marble or maybe polishing a really big crystal bowl down the street or something. The hideous tone turned out to be coming from my stereo; an extremely high-pitched triangle in the first track, “S” (all the tracks have single-letter titles except for “WR” which has two letters).

Sometimes dogs hear a sound out of our frequency range and they hide under the bed for seemingly no reason. If this is the kind of keening, percussive whine they hear, I understand now. I was pretty sure the lenses in my eyes were about to crinkle into dust from sympathetic resonance.

I had to turn it off.

Since this isn’t the same copy of the album I owned all those years ago, I briefly considered that perhaps there was a pressing where the EQ was screwed up in the mastering. I also considered maybe it was a quirk of the particular stereo. But since I’m having a similar reaction on headphones right now, I highly doubt it.

It’s a little odd I didn’t remember the ossicle-splitting tone but perhaps that’s because the rest of the music is completely brilliant. If, for some reason, you set out to imagine the most beautiful, epic, breath-taking, cinematic post-rock record ever recorded, this is the kind of record you should be imagining.

Though it lacks the classic slow-build and quiet-loud-quiet dynamics of bands like Gosdspeed! You Black Emperor and Mogwai, at the time of release the melodies were more soaring, the atmosphere more enveloping and, overall, it was simply a more refined, more mature artistic vision. While other late-90s post-rock bands often relied on bombast and a symphonic wall-of-sound, with Mi Media Naranja Labradford opted for pure, distilled beauty—though the sort of beauty that’s made all the more enchanting by the hint of a sinister presence creeping in the background.

Of course post-rock has come and gone and come back again a few times since 1997, and this music isn’t as singular a triumph as it once was, it might even sound a little old-hat, but it’s still one of the best instrumental (post)rock albums ever recorded.

Except for that damn triangle.

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