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Rachel's



Is it possible for a band to make you want to be a better person? Can mere sounds make you pack up as many belongings as will fit into a small knapsack and set off across mountains and valleys until you find the solitary cabin where you will live out the rest of your days? Or inspire you to take an aimless drive down an unfamiliar road, past boarded-up houses, stray dogs, and laundry hung out beneath a threatening sky?

If so, Rachel's is that band. Their inspired and inspiring compositions can be uplifting, unsettling, or downright eerie, as they combine classical instrumentation (including cello, viola, piano, and harpsichord) with sound effects, samples, and the occasional voice to create music that is consistently moving, inventive, daring and alluring.

It may seem odd to consider Rachel's indie, even if the band does include members of Rodan, Shellac, and The Coctails. Perhaps they are not. Perhaps Rachel's is merely a chamber music orchestra with a hip underground pedigree. That's irrelevant. What really matters is the beauty of the music. Besides, if it's indie cred that you're after, what could be more punk rock that releasing a classical album on Quarterstick?

"A French Galleasse" is from Rachel's fourth full-length on Quarterstick Records, Selenography (the study of the surface of the moon). This album has the same soaring, triumphant strings and keys as their three previous albums: 1996's The Sea and The Bells and Music for Egon Schiele (the latter a soundtrack to Chicago's Itinerant Theater Guild 1995 piece of dance and theater), and 1995's Handwriting.

Systems/Layers, Rachel's fifth album and first in four years, was another collaborative theater piece, this time with New York City's Siti Company. The gorgeous string-based chamber ensemble sound the initiated know so well is the backbone here too, but this time dozens of sampled voices and quiet field recordings seep in around the edges to give the album a quite unique orchestrated ambience. Utterly unlike any other release of 2003, Systems/Layers casts a peculiar kind of benign spell on you, regardless of your location or mental state; like all successful ambient music, it infects your consciousness even when you don't realize you're listening.

If this mixture of classically minded indie rockers and high-concept composition sounds like a recipe for pretension, think again: Rachel's are one of the most captivating and amusing live bands you could ever hope to see. The live shows consist of music from each record, projections, improvisation, and plenty of wisecracks. Don't miss them if you get the chance!