Another week, another immediately sold-out cassette on Stuart McLean’s eclectic Bibliotapes. This time around the subject is Kurt Vonnegut’s allegorical Cat’s Cradle (1963), and the artist offering up a soundtrack is Twenty-Three Hanging Trees, the alias of UK-based French electronic musician Xavier Watkins.
For a book so intertwined with dramatically apocalyptic sentiment, Watkins’ accompaniment is surprisingly and remarkably ephemeral. Fuzzy melodies and gauzy atmospheres dominate the eleven tracks, creating a sort of detached, observational response to Vonnegut’s dark humour. The album’s most dramatic moments come on ‘As It Happened’, finding Watkins creating a soundfield of crackling static approximating the terminal solidifying of the world’s oceans thanks to the escape of the ‘ice nine’ chemical on the island shores of San Lorenzo; the piece is full of a nauseating, unstoppable terminal motion, reaching a crescendo as gentle liquified ripples are replaced by a horrifying stillness.
Elsewhere, ‘The Illustrious Hoenikkers’ finds layers and cycles of vintage, fluttering synthesizer passages, full of mystery and retro-futuristic promise; its gentle phasing and questing arpeggios recall the earliest electronic albums, only offset by a brooding sense of things being far from optimistic. The languid guitar-like textures and delicate melodic washes of ‘I See The Hook’ are arguably among the most surprising moments here given that their serene tonalities are paired to the San Lorenzo ruler’s favoured form of execution and dictatorial enforcement.
Cat’s Cradle by Twenty-Three Hanging Trees was released by Bibliotapes on September 27 2019 and is now sold out. A digital version is available at Bandcamp.
Words: Mat Smith
(c) 2019 Further.