Some of you may be unaware of the fact that there is a new Abigail und Hansel single (7”33rpm) that has made its way into the universe. This is truly tragic. For I am here to tell you that the cause of Abigail und Hansel is a just cause, a righteous cause, and a cause that few have championed until now. This record is a truly remarkable piece of plastic.
Abigail und Hansel is and has always been the core duo of Joel Crutcher and Michelle Waterman, with whatever side musicians they deem necessary to fulfill their aims. From their earliest efforts on cassette tape in the 90s, the pair have pursued an uncompromising acid-forward version of psychedelia that ranges widely from folk outings, country tinged numbers and blues-baked railroad songs to flat out space music and ethereal drone jams. Echoing her days in Minneapolis’s finest aliens, the Romulans, Waterman switches from vintage guitar and bass stylings to finely sung lyrics in her rich contralto voice. Crutcher, well-known for his scathing improvisatory guitar salvos in Tulum and ST 37, contributes the occasional pissed-off nasal vocal bit and also adds touches of slide guitar, lap steel, drone effects and whatever else serves the songs.
The lineup represented on their current 7”45, their first vinyl offering after decades of cassettes and CDs, is perhaps their finest yet. Julia Hungerford builds drum patterns par excellence and has been their rhythmic backbone for several years now. On trumpet, the late, lamented Leonard Smith adds washes of delayed horn to the mix, tastefully playing only when needed. Bob Bechtol brings synthetic atmosphere to the proceedings with electronic winds of change and burbling brooks. The new single opens with Forever Dance, a nice little gaze at death that starts off sweetly and gently but builds to a towering climax of sturm und drang that explodes into darkness. Bechtol echoes his ST 37 predecessor and Joel’s brother Carlton Crutcher with some deft analog sequencing while the lyrics pay homage to “In the Shadows” from the Stranglers’ seminal Black and White LP, a song that has become all too relevant in the modern age. Finally, at the end of the improvisatory section, the exhausted song lumbers to a climax with the sounds of things falling apart – machines breaking down and collapsing in heaps of dust at the side of the road. It’s an exhilarating listen, strangely enough.
The B-side is River of Bees, based on the poem by the American antiwar poet WS Merwin, a recording of which plays in the background of the largely drumless song. Michelle plays a determined, insistent chording that reinforces the rhythm of the poem as Joel, Leonard and Bob drift off into deep interstellar reaches. The poem gets increasingly distorted and delayed as the music gets sparser towards the end, recalling some of Charalambides’ finer moments. The relevant lines here are really the end of the piece:
On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live
I think this is the crux of Abigail und Hansel’s continued existence – like so many artists, great and otherwise, they do what they do because they have to do it, not because they want to. It’s an urge, a compulsion, something inside them that has to get out – let’s face it, if they were doing it for the attention, the fame or the money, they would have quit a long time ago. In a way, they do create music as a survival mechanism – but it has become a way of life, a means to an end.