VHF records was founded by Bill Kellum in 1991 to publish a single by his own band, Rake, a group which produced assemblages of noise and crunch throughout the 1990s. Since its inception, VHF has grown to include a variety of experimental and indie groups, as well as the late Jack Rose, of the third generation of American primitive guitarists. Other artists producing music for the label include Hiroyuki Usui (previously of A-Musik, Marble Sheep and Fushitsusha), Cian Nugent, Flying Saucer Attack and Vibracathedral Orchestra, which sounds precisely as the name implies.
I dropped into the record label’s website hoping to find more music in the vein of Jack Rose, whose solo guitar ragtimes and ragas have inspired much of my dreamtime adventuring. I was fortunate in discovering that the label recently released a CD by Jesse Sparhawk and Eric Carbonara entitled “Tributes and Diatribes.”
Much of VHF’s music fits into the genre of drone and noise music. From the endless guitar riffs of stoner metal to spacey spiraling of micro-tonal organs accompanied by white noise, VHF covers its bases to ensure fans of these genres may easily find something to love in their catalog. I was relieved of my woes when the graceful tones of Sparhawk and Carbonara met my ears.
Sparhawk plays a 38-string lever harp, while Carbonara twiddles upon an upright 22-string chaturangui guitar, which he occasionally exchanges for a banjo or nylon-string guitar. The two are sometimes accompanied by the percussive antics of Peterson Goodwyn, who supplies some mean grooves which lend an upbeat rhythm to the whole project.
The CD opens with a piece called “Alemu.” Rattling twangs upon the chaturangui greet the listener; the distant Indian tones are unmistakable. Soon, the harp appears and the two dance about one another in a sleepy duet for the first half of the arrangement. Eventually, an arpeggiated crescendo calls out to Goodwyn, who then joins the duo for a light-hearted march through and out of the Indian countryside.
The second track, “Yellow Bird,” opens with the vibrations of nylon strings which are quickly joined by Sparhawk’s harp. The two hold a conversation which ascends into a Spanish-style ballad as percussion enters the scene. Once a groove has been established, the conversational tones return and expand, keeping pace to the understated ending.
The next track, “Twilight Lamento,” was rather disappointing in comparison to the first two. It opens with a slower drone than can be found elsewhere on the album, but its second half runs away in what ultimately amounted to an overindulgent display of skill. It seems to plainly say “Look, we are more powerful than we let on,” but, in boasting, the fine flavors we’re overpowered by a garlic pride which overstays its welcome.
The final track, “Hitch and Herman,” attempts to redeem the duo with its reserved and discordant groove. The harp jumps about menacingly, eventually giving room for the guitar to strike the same pose. Ultimately the repetitive dance drags on, but the rhythmic harp strikes managed to keep me interested through to the end.
Overall, I quite enjoyed “Tributes and Diatribes.” It was relaxing and exciting all at once. Sparhawk and Carbonara are very skilled musicians, their only shortcoming was attempting to prove what was plainly apparent.