Not many can pull off what Shadow Ring accomplishes. By setting detuned stringed instruments against kitchen utensil percussion and patching thick Brit spoken-word poetry overhead, the group manages to maintain a sparse calamity beyond any one-trick experimental novelty play. Regardless of an open sound, the music’s unresolved repeating phrases and home made recording techniques contribute to an atmosphere of primitivism and claustrophobia, placing the group closer to early American folk than to most current avant-rock musicians.
The Kent band started with the pairing of Daren Harris and Graham Lambkin. City Lights is the most melodic of their releases, with actual singing heard on the title track and on “Lyin’ Eyes.” Klaus Canterbury contributes some fine, erratic electrical sounds on the drawn-out “Faithful Calls,” while every moment of “The Visitor” threatens complete dissolution under a thumping tom drum and randomly plucked guitar.
Wax-Work Echoes continues with the verminology, focusing on all types of sewer animal brethren, but is much more abrasive than past works. The music fills out on this CD — Tim Goss had joined the group as full-time electrics support, and Shadow Ring makes greater use of multi-tracking opportunities. “Catching Sight/Of Passing Things” stumbles over various guitar, piano and tape loop passages, while the repeating vocal phrases of “Rats & Mice” get lost in a morass of distortion. On “Recovered Meat,” the usual disharmonious guitar strums take a backseat to a swirling noise collage. Rather than revel in artiness, the group has some fun with the usually heady Corpus Hermeticum packaging, fabricating a personals ad by a Shadow Ring fan and copying a worksheet offering Goss (who “plays keyboards and percussion brilliantly”) well wishes on his American tour before continuing with mundane office minutae.
That 1995 tour — part of a Siltbreeze showcase which also included Harry Pussy, Charalambides and Ashtabula — resulted in Live in U.S.A., an adequate off-the-board document with crowd noise and sound reverberations. No place was better than New York to cart out “No #8,” where Lambkin dissects the trendiness of improvisational music, Wire magazine back-issue trades and No Neck Blues Band vs. Manfred Mann battles, over screeching electronic squawks.
Hold on to ID returns the band to early form. Silence over noise returns as guitar, percussion and electronic oscillations coexist with little clamor. Harris has steered his voice towards the snidest of vitriol, even when speaking utter mundanity (“A carrot is not likely to ask for a wash,” is observed in “Wash What You Eat”).
Lambkin also plays in Transmission with Harry Pussy performance artist Adris Hoyos.