I will say right off the bat that this release is not for everyone. Not only is it basically a two piece group comprised of viola and drums (and other assorted percussion and whatnots), but this is a release that was largely improvised. Of course, if you add into the equation that the two people involved are both very talented musicians and that the release is being put out by the always-trustworthy Constellation Records, it should help even things out a bit. As one could expect, this is sort of a stripped-down affair and mainly an exploration of the different dynamics that can be achieved with different variables on two instruments.
The first time I listened to the release (and this may be something that happens with most) is that the more song-like tracks on the album stuck out first and foremost, while the more experimental pieces sort of settled to the bottom. I suppose it's only natural since most minds like to impose order on things, but it was only upon subsequent listens that the release really started settling in and becoming interesting as a whole.
During the course of 8 tracks and just over 40 minutes of music, HangedUp goes from mild and soothing to jagged to completely rocking out, sometimes within the course of one song. Genevieve Heistek coaxes some of the most amazing string sounds of her viola that I've ever heard from one, and Eric Craven keeps things interesting on the rhythm section by banging and clanging in all sorts of ways. The album starts out with one of the best tracks on the entire release with "Winternational." After an almost serpentine viola buildup at the beginning of the track, things pick up and the track turns into a rolicking number with thick drums and attacking strings.
After the less structured second track and the third entitled "Powered By Steam" (which fits it's title quite amazingly in sounding like the song form of a train engine lurching forward from a quiet standstill), the group hits their stride amazingly again on "New Blue Monday" (a super loose reworking of the New Order track). The perfect example of one of the tracks I mentioned above that has everything, it starts out with a simple and somewhat playful too and fro before dropping off into a quiet refrain and then kicking up again into a full fledged foot stomper.
The second half of the album continues with some of the same themes, without sounding too much at all like anything that came before it. "Tapping" is a long, more experimental track that finds the two instrumentalists blending very subtle elements of their instruments sound while "Czech Disco Pt II" takes off again and finds the duo damn well rocking out. While I mentioned above that there are two musicians, others pop in for different parts on tracks (both Efrim from Godspeed You Black Emperor and A Silver Mt. Zion and Ian of Re: pop in and add various bits) and occassionaly the instruments are multitracked (like the viola sounding like two or three) to give things a more rich sound. The album is loose and interesting, but not so damn experimental that there isn't a lot to be enjoyed. Yeah, it's a bit weird, but so are you.