Finding the sounds on a cassette more interesting after it has been sucked into a vacuum cleaner gives an indication that there is something peculiar about the musical ear of Bram Devens. He apparently likes to work directly to tape, preferring the analogue qualities to the more pristine, yet colder digitalised sound. Seemingly, the more mangled and addled the sound the more likely it is to find its way onto one of his releases.

Devens operates mainly under the alter ego of Ignatz, a name taken from the antagonist of Krazy Kat in George Herriman’s pre-war cartoon strip. Ignatz mouse’s main means of attack was to hurl bricks at the unfortunate cat. Deven’s music is less overtly aggressive but just as hard to ignore.

I stumbled across him not through his Ignatz releases but via a limited edition cassette called ‘Atlantic Woman’ (confusingly credited to Miles Deven). I downloaded this from the ever dependable ‘Microphones In The Trees’ blogspot on the strength of a glowing review form the equally reliable David Keenan of  Volcanic Tongue.  What I discovered was a bizarre mix of muddy blues, mangled drones and strange acoustics that made me immediately want to hear more.

So arresting is his lo-fi reworking of folk music that I can’t for the life of me understand how it’s taken me so long to catch up with him. His first full length album, called simply Ignatz, came out in 2005 followed in successive years by the imaginatively titled Ignatz II and Ignatz III. In between there are equally impressive and more interestingly named eps: Addiction For Slumber and I Will Soothe My Eye to Feast it with a Sight of Beauty.

In Devens’ musical kingdom there are long rambling instrumental passages broken intermittently by incoherent vocal groans and whispers. There’s a modernity about the fuzzy mass of drones, loops and effects he creates but at the same time it frequently sounds like a badly tuned radio station beaming in from the beginning of the last century.

Although Devens hails from Brussels, I strongly suspect that he has fully immersed himself in the America’s mythical musical heritage – absorbing every holler and moan of those outsider voices and lonesome bluesmen who crop up on Harry Smith’s Anthologies or as part John Fahey’s American Primitive collections.

Ignatz made me think of two other quirky individuals operating outside the United States – Stefan Neville (Pumice) and Alistair Galbraith. Both those artists are from New Zealand and somehow the backwater folk-blues they produce is more understandable considering the terrain of that country. The fact that you can sound just as new and weird in Belgium only goes to show that you don’t need to be holed up in a shotgun shack on the banks the Mississippi to sound authentic – you just need to conjure up the right imaginary landscape.

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