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Those who enjoyed "Loose Lips Sink Ships," the first album from Des Ark, and decided to check out the band at the Black Cat on Sunday night probably got a little shock when the music started. Plopped onto a stool on the floor in front of the Cat's Backstage, singer Aimee Argote cradled an acoustic guitar, while drummer Tim Herzog (and his kit) was nowhere to be seen.
"This is Des Ark. It used to be that, now it's this. It happens." Argote offered that cryptic explanation among an overflow of rambling talk that lasted as long as the handful of acoustic songs she played during the brief set. "Loose Lips" does open and close with hushed acoustic meditations, but its bulk is a spiderland of thudding drums and spiraling indie-rock guitar patterns. Now, though, Argote apparently favors the I'm-so-emotionally-full-I-need-to-write-a-song-in-which-I-almost-cry-just-like-Conor-Oberst approach. Crawling through a series of compositions that sounded very much like an overdose of Bright Eyes circa "Fevers and Mirrors," she occasionally laid her chin on her guitar as she sang in doleful rumination.
The stories of love and sex turned inside-out were uninteresting, and her banter wasn't any better. Whatever forward momentum Argote had established as part of a rock duo now seems mostly erased, her Ark drifting rudderlessly.
-- Patrick Foster
Cantate Chamber Singers
Every year, the repetition of 20 or so Christmas chestnuts by radio stations and retailers creates an audience desperate for less familiar songs that still evoke the joy and reflection of the season. The Cantate Chamber Singers presented just such a program Sunday afternoon under their music director, Gisele Becker, at the Mansion at Strathmore.
It was especially good to hear them perform Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols." The work uses medieval texts and tunes as its basic material, but Britten's arrangements of the carols for sopranos, altos and harp take already craggy melodies and add subtle 20th-century dissonances and rhythmic dislocations. This removes some surface prettiness but leaves the music sounding awesome and strange. The Cantate performance found the sternness in "Deo gracias" and made "In Freezing Winter Night" feel tremblingly cold. The "Ceremony of Carols" still has plenty of beautiful moments, as the Cantate performance made eminently clear; particularly lovely were the "Spring Carol" and Marian Rian Hayes's ruminative reading of Britten's solo harp interlude.
The rest of the program featured "Carols From Many Countries," including unfamiliar works, such as the gorgeous French carol "Quelle Est Cette Odeur Agreable?" ("What Is This Lovely Fragrance?"), and works that are familiar in other guises, such as the original Welsh version of "Deck the Halls." Despite the Mansion's acoustics, which do not flatter the human voice, and despite a few slip-ups that were highlighted as a result, it was a treat to hear such stylish performances of little-heard works in such an intimate setting.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone