Exile marks 20 years of Tom and Christina Carter playing psychedelic folk music as Charalambides. It’s a hard, focused album, harboring an intensity featuring Christina’s cryptic poetry as well as the dense maze of oscillating notes that permeates Charalambides’ work. This is a record for the somber and focused. Yet more than anything, Exile is defined by a skeletal atmosphere that threads through every track despite the varied density of the instruments and voices droning along, stark in the way more friendly folk music often avoids.
The barrier of entry isn’t particularly easy here, despite this kind of music being far more commonplace and widely embraced than when the Carters first started releasing records. Meditative songs like “Desecrated” and “Immovable” don’t shy away from repetitive instrumentation that initially comes off like barren, insistent songwriting – but when Christina starts lamenting technology in the bedroom and the futility of college degrees, that reserved quality of the guitar backing makes a lot more sense.
“Into the Earth,” the first of four songs over 10 minutes each that end the album, takes a more wordless, caustic approach, with a beautiful, naturalist melody and rich harmonic vocals giving way to a competing array of shredded guitars that skitter along tirelessly. “Wanted to Talk” and 14-minute stunner “Pity Pity Me” are both challenging showcases for Christina’s delicate warble that rework simple phrases and lyrical ideas until they’re exhausted. On “Pity Pity Me,” the darkly gorgeous vocal eventually draws the title’s three-word mantra over measures, reveling in an affecting, chilling anguish. And an up and down repetition of three porcelain piano chords makes the track sound even more like the haunting song of a pained ghost floating along in the lingering dark.
Those are the kind of broad, metaphorical images that the hypnotic nature of these songs invoke. Coming in at well over an hour, Exile has plenty of time to transcend its inherent simplicity and become a deeply affecting album (regardless of whether Carter’s lyrics are decipherable), more often than not creating a shifty feeling of discomfort that originates less from blue notes and rough-edged guitar filters than the emotional weight of such ominous and stretched out tracks. Exile feels like the kind of album experienced artists in a mature career make – not necessarily easy to appreciate, but put together in a manner that finds everything in the right place, carefully introduced to specific and thoughtful effect.
by Michael Merline
Key Tracks: Words Inside