On their Facebook page, 23 Threads describe themselves as a “macabre folk band”—a label that I find rather misleading (the macabre part, not the folk, to be precise). Based in New York City by way of Poland, the trio of vocalist Ingrid Dawn Swen and instrumentalists Marek Marchoff and Rafal Janus (with lyrics written by M. J. Caroline Rider and edited by Swen) focus on spoken-word poetry backed by minimal string and keyboard work. Rather than being creepy, it’s a soothing listen, albeit dominated by a too-heavy dose of the bizarre.
Swen has a full and dramatic delivery, full of character without overdoing the pretension. Her mystical couplets bring to mind John Balance; in fact, there’s a certain Coil influence in how the band structures their music. “Philosophy,” for example, is built around a quiet lo-fi noise sample that loops into eternity, while Swen’s filtered voice crops up in random bursts. Towards the end, the sample pitches up into a grinding whine before cutting out; it feels nicely improvised, if not especially cutting-edge from a creative standpoint. “Still Waters” is a ballad with flute and acoustic guitar backing Swen’s recital describing the joys of being immersed in a river. Her narrative delivery is a high point for the band; she adjusts her tone in unexpected ways, and inserts dramatic pause at just the right time, and for the right length. Toward the end, a funky bass and wobbling guitar take the spotlight, while newly pitched vocals layer over each other. It’s a strange combination, but for a band that isn’t afraid to take chances, it makes sense … at least initially.
There’s nothing really “macabre” to be found here, to be honest. 23 Threads is decidedly off-center, owing to its unusual instrumentation and experimental vocal delivery, but the level of darkness is slight. The improvisational feel remains strong throughout, with guitar riffs, spoken words, or even the odd horn or drum appearing when you least expect them, creating a nice atmosphere of expectation as the album works its way through its hour. The final track is a remix by Different State—another of Marchoff’s projects—but other than a markedly more mechanical feel thanks to the increased prevalence of loops, the substance is the same.
Conspicuous Unobstructed Path is a curious album. One minute you’re hearing minimal ambiance and a strange circus-like sequence in the next, followed by a plucked bass and calm guitar. On paper, it shouldn’t work, but in practice, it somehow manages to hold together. On one hand, I wish I understood Swen’s message a bit better, and that her voice wasn’t processed as often as it is, but on the other, if it was more predictable, it would certainly lose something. The disparate and consistently shifting parts of the music left me a bit uncertain; once the album was over, I was somewhat at a loss to describe what I’d just heard. Other than the experimental qualities, nothing truly stuck with me. Perhaps I just didn’t get into the album’s vibe due to its random nature. One of the final tracks, “Seeing,” begins with Marchoff offering Swen her coffee, then bidding her thanks for a great session over mariachi music as the track winds down. Like I mentioned, odd. Listeners who dig this kind of thing, however, will be more than pleased.
23 Threads remains, to me, an oddity that’s largely defined by its staunch refusal to be categorized. Sometimes a band’s attempt at experimentation can work against it, resulting in a fluidity of identity that slips through your fingers the harder you try to grasp it. I’m not sure what the message is here, other than an exercise in creativity. It’s admirable and even inspiring, but Conspicuous Unobstructed Path skirts perilously close to completely losing itself for the sake of improvisation.
01) In Deep Forest
03) In Deep Forest Theme
04) Still Waters
05) Animal in the Circle
06) Music Box
07) The Fallen
08) Terminal Rise
10) The Bridge / Different State—Mega Re-Constructed