Their surname alone may not make husband and wife team Tom and Christina Carter (who, along with Heather-Leigh Murray, record as Charalambides) into the Carter Family of the 21st century. But their music might. Rather than transcribe the folk songs of the Appalachian hills, these Carters have planted themselves in Texas hill country with pliant music that is at once psychedelic, minimalist, improvised, folk-based, and avant-garde. Roaming through these genres like wind through barbed-wire fences, their microtonal surges follow the rhythms that arise from the ladies' heaving breath, howling moans, and heavenly exhalations.
Whether Joy Shapes is their eighth or their thirteenth record (depending upon whether you count the numerous CD-R releases the band has put out themselves), its 75 minutes tower over everything else in their discography, even such double-album leviathans as 1995's Market Square and 2002's IN CR EA SE. No longer haunting the periphery of the music, Christina Carter elevates her vocalizations until they're the emotional focus of the songs. Her shrieks charge the atmosphere on "Here Not Here" while her coos conciliate the sprawling title track. Her guitar quivers as Tom's electric and Heather's pedal-steel clench and unfurl, allowing for silences to swell and hypnotic pulses to arise naturally.
Charalambides go where dead voices gather, hovering over the void to draw on the primal sounds ensconced in the earth. Heather and Christina's twining voices pull from Patty Waters, Jeanne Lee, and Geechie Wiley, spinning a vortex that's hair-raising, while the guitars moan and ripple like Loren Conners and Harry Partch playing with Blind Willie Johnson. They parlay the topography of inner space, playing the turbulent emotional states that lie beneath the surface of all song forms. Even as the three artists scatter to different corners of the globe, they're together building the shape of music to come.