Cul De Sac - China Gate (1996)

Beginning and almost ending with an interpretation of the title track, a lesser known collaboration from the mid-century musical figures Victor Young and Harold Adamson, China Gate, edited down from one lengthy recording session, finds Cul de Sac fully coming into its own. Smack-dab in the middle of a post-rock craze which the band itself had no real part in or immediate affinity for, the quartet's combination of artistic inspirations from around the world into an at-once dreamy and energetic series of compositions won it long-due attention. Each of the members' specific talents get a chance to shine, all without seeming like a series of solo spots or showboating on their part. "Sakhalin" is one excellent example, with Jones and Amos trading off guitar and synth pieces in the best jazz tradition as Fujiwara and Proudman lay down a steady, swinging rhythm. Top that off with a bit of studio chatter after the song ends about the meaning of the title, and the feeling is of a band at once serious and relaxed about what they do -- a good balance that continues throughout. Everything from queasily disturbing synth and electronic lines from Amos to unaccompanied drumming from Proudman goes into the mix, the feeling being like an open-ended journey through a mystic mental landscape. One sign of the band's abilities lies in how it can tackle both loud and soft material with the same evocative grasp, as the quiet but never evanescent "James Coburn" demonstrates, building up just enough, but no more, for its ending. Other high points include Jones' chiming, almost rollicking guitar work on "Doldrums," Fujiwara's lovely bass on "Hemispheric Events Command," which stays just enough to the fore as the rest of the band kicks in, and the lengthy explorations of "The Fourth Eye."

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