Christina Carter, ‘Character Study’

Posted by on January 22, 2015

Character Study

Drawing Room Records, June 2014

Christina Carter has a long musical résumé – ranging from solo work to various collaborations over the years, like her project with ex-husband Tom Carter in Charalambides. She has worked with artists like Pocahaunted, Black Forest, and Gown, and with labels like Kranky, Root Strata, Blackest Rainbow, and now Drawing Room Records.

Character Study is her new EP, a contemplative hypnotizer of a record. Whether this is her Walden record or not (I don’t think she went into the woods or did that), she certainly spent a great amount of time in reflection while working on these songs. This record challenges intellectually, as it explores the artistic process, the role of art in commerce, and how both influence society. It’s spoken-sung. It’s serious. It’s feminism. It’s not feminism. It’s fascinating.

Musically it sounds like the rum-stuffed cousin of Loren ConnorsIn Pittsburgh. Her abstract blues are laid on a crawling pace. Carter’s emerging vocal trademark is as prevalent as ever – her very long-held notes, and mantra-like tonal repetition. In “Survival,” Carter manages to play her electric guitar in a way that sounds like each strum disassembles itself into a slide guitar atonal whirlpool. The notes fall apart before they can reverberate. The rhythm is non-linear, but somehow always drifting or lapping forward – and if not forward, then somewhere. It is all very circular, wobbly, and dissociative.

Carter coos and swoons along the surreal guitar dis-assembly and light tambourine. Lyrically we hear provocative meditations on power dynamics, knowledge, books, and (to an extent) capitalism. Has art become work (or is imagination “utilized” for “production”), which may be antithetical to what art should be? Have artists consciously considered their participation in their payment over the centuries? Can art exist if it is non-essential? The 12 minutes and 14 seconds of mangled Hawaiian blues seems to stretch out into a surreal haze, and if it weren’t for the sharply focused vocals, time may as well slip away.

“Salvation” on the other hand uses a clean guitar sound and a nearly regular rhythm to forge some kind of cousin of “slowcore.” The woozy and spacious wandering is contrasted with a stark, jarring vocal mirror to the artist. She sings about a man who “took his revenge, exposing [her] weakness,” and how she did not protect herself while “subjective and objective collapsed into itself.” Obsession and love may be on the same side of the spectrum. During the unhurried devolution (this is another 12-minute track) of drifting psychedelia, Carter steers her highly acute analysis from the external world back to the self: from questions of purpose to questions of agency.

Over the years Charalambides has focused on repetition at times to hypnotic effect. This may have developed simultaneously as Christina Carter has settled into her sound. Character Study’s abstractions and free pace are hypnotic, and perhaps better executed than 2011’s Charalambides double LP, Exile, on Kranky, which seemed to pursue a similar mood, but with a maximalist palate.

The label Drawing Room points to the fact that Carter has been developing this spoken/sung, trippy, and vocal-centric aesthetic for six years now. It’s a beautiful sound, shaded by Loren Connors, her Tom Carter, and many others, but it’s unique and fully formed. Many more listeners deserve to hear her.