Byzantium Crow, as with last year’s self-titled release, musically mimics the many assumed guises of mythic luthier and multi-instrumentalist Stephen R. Smith. The man is a magician, a shape-shifter between and within his meticulous recordings – he crafts the instruments, the pieces, and more recently, with his own fail better label Worstward, the records themselves. Byzantium Crow is a hypnotic sweep of improvisation and dense arrangement – the slow rotation of the sun around a solitary, exposed object, shifting its shadows and glimmers, carving out a multitude of dimensions hidden in plain sight.
Having previously passed through the stylistic terrain of Eastern Europe, Smith seemingly reaches the great cultural bridge of Istanbul. One can surely hear a journey, the dry heat of low drones and wispy bowed harmonics the evaporating haze rising on the horizon. But the air is also heavy with its destination’s perfume, especially the interlocking modal motif curling through the middle of the first side (the hammered piano and dulcimer timbres playing off each other) and the nasal, insect-wing hum of hurdy gurdy in the second (I assume Smith brings his Medieval music box back out in its cyclical, cranked rhythmic inflection). The beginning of each piece dwells in an alap of acoustic guitar before blossoming into deeper layers of treated strings, keys, and occasional, muted percussion. Church bells ring the record in and out, a welcome invitation to repeated listenings – a hallucinatory self-dissection perfect for the dog days of summer.