"Bitter Hands Resign"

Sonic Unyon

A Northern Chorus's third CD has a wind-swept quality about it -- atmospheric, layered, chilly, enveloping. In short, it's an acquired taste.

But if you're in the mood for rock meditations, "Bitter Hands Resign" may well be your cup of Zen. The Ontario-based ensemble specializes in mood pieces that are meticulously arranged and dotted with subtle variations in tone and color, all contributing to a peculiar ebb and flow. The instrumentation alone is distinctive enough to catch your ear: guitars, cello, piano, organ, bass and percussion. But what consistently stands out, albeit often in the subtlest of ways, are the sonic weaves that tie one tune to the next, almost seamlessly at times.

If the sextet has any commercial ambitions, it's not letting on. Each of the album's eight songs is long enough to discourage airplay. The lyrics, which range from the poetic to the ponderous, aren't exactly radio-friendly, either. Just scan the opening lines to "Costa Del Sol," a ballad that inspired the album's title: "Please direct your eyes to the trembling skies, to the trembling skies / And catch every glimpse in all your words, in all your conjured chords / As sure as bitter hands resign, the past will be seen in new light, cast upon old words that you thought you'd lost in the fire." Get the picture?

Not every lyric appears torn from the band's own book of revelations, though. "Winterize," which concerns the death of pop tunesmith Elliott Smith, brings the CD to a haunting close.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Sunday at DC9.