Written by: Dave Cantrell
Maybe it’s in their name but Laughing Eye Weeping Eye’s second album Beway is a work beset by a remarkable schizophrenia. For well over half this record the band (essentially a vehicle for Chicago artist Rebecca Schoenecker) achieves, in various forms, a sonorous, bewitching, and intrepidly daring level of sui generis noisemaking, carving out an odd, medieval-y quirk of a niche that the muse of wildest Canterbury must have reserved especially for them. It’s a traipse over mostly unexplored landscapes that nearly every other outfit going would have neither the nerve nor the talent to attempt. As to why they choose to drop a confounding black hole of flitting sonic dottiness two-thirds the way through, well, only goddess knows.
Let it be first and most loudly proclaimed, however, that at this LEYE WEYE (as they’re affectionately known) excel: soundtracking the abandoned cathedrals inside your head whatever they may contain: rabid pigeons, rabid lost flautists, defrocked priests preaching indecipherable liturgies, children’s choirs that took a wrong turn, kettle drums in cobwebbed corners pounded now and then by an unseen hand. Within that soundtrack are wooze-inducing synths that sound like drunken pump organs full of pomp and stumbling grandeur (“Sentient Being”); skeletal tribal drum and pan flute excursions with unhidden Slitsian allegiances (“Whodovoodoo”); doomful squeeze box vibes big and blousy enough to swallow sailors whole in their expanding/contracting folds before leading them to a near fatal beauty (“Wild Night”); earthen elemental campfire singalongs that are propelled by more of that accordion mayhem, sure, but also by mournful fiddles warning of danger, some off-kilter hand-clapping and flutes from a Navajo nightmare, during all of which you’ll be delighted – if not exactly surprised – to find a Raincoats memory sneaking in behind the vocals like an audio photo-bombing (“Beway“); female-monks-by-the-bonfire purity rituals attended by a quaver of angels (“Knight”) and plenty more twitches and glitches that lend these songs an uncanny sense of being sketches fully realized. The mood is becowled and spiritually elfin and never in those instances where LEYE WEYE follow their vaporous flying teapot jinn are they anything less than whimsically arresting and utterly riveting. It’s when they fly off that teapot’s handle and into the great maw of dabbly experimentation, however, that the plot that has been dangling so winningly by a string gets temporarily – and most decidedly – lost.
It happens, with a willful unexpectedness, a minute into seventh track “Angels,” when what began with the usual skewed and earnest coven aesthetic – ghostly if rather shrill vocals, an amped harp sound played with steel fingernails, an echoed chamber-folk ambience, all that – is brashly interrupted by a distorted psych electric guitar tone so sudden one checks to see if it’s the start of a new track. The change would be welcome were it to lead into something other than a free-form shambles anchored (if that’s the word) by a kazoo with violent tendencies. It’s a discordant dog’s breakfast with no relief, no redemption. Relief would seem to come with next track “Village”‘s soothing pluck of renaissance guitars and the gentle airs of Schoenecker’s lilty voice but it too soon unravels into an avant-nothing mess that sounds like nothing less than a Robert Wyatt headache made audible. Immediately thereafter, thankfully, we’re returned to the agreeably idiosyncratic, to the safety of the vaguely pre-Elizabethan sound collages that had lured us in in the first place, capped by album ender “The Lamb,” a swooning, luminous, masterful last stroke that leaves me near tears, its humming, deliberate beauty all a-swarm in Rebecca’s multi-tracked almost operatic choir trills, shivering the cathedral to its pitched, oaken-timbered ceiling, ending on a high note, ending on a high.
Aside from that minor drift into the plinky-plonk anarchy of the psycho-hobbit ward, Beway is close to astonishing, the uncompromised, adventurous work of an artist forever in child-like thrall to her rural Wisconsin roots, one fiercely endowed with enough courage as an adult to become a little unhinged expressing it. Beway warrants our attention, there simply won’t be anything like it heard this year.
– Dave Cantrell