Sunday, December 19, 2004

Three more psychedelic albums...

...first a sidebar. The word "psychedelic" comes with all the wrong connotations these days. You smell patchouli mixed with musty birkenstocks, right? Envision throngs of Phish Phreinds rushing one lone battered portapotty in a field of green and yellow. Fact is, true psychedelia, as a musical genre or a state of mind, reaches well beyond all the silly tie-dyed cliches. True psychedelia does not require that one go insane after ingesting obscene amounts of lsd, DMT or mescaline to experience it, but that's certainly one sad possibility. As any well surveyed course on world cultures can attest, a truly psychedelic experience can be achieved through any number of means, whether they be by meditation, ritual body modification, the religious word or good old music. I fancy the idea of "psychedelia" in music (and other arts) because it is such a truly broad and all encompassing idea. Any sensory experience involving the five senses, six including the soul, can exist in, or at least step through, the area where perception is distorted and altered states of awareness realized. Good psychedelic music is one of the least damaging and most direct routes to "that place." No blood-letting is required, no sweat chambers or hours of meditation. To some people, this all may very well be found at a gathering of the tribes, sleeping and shitting in the mud for 48 hrs while reeling in the throws of 5 hit blotter dose, but I ain't buyin', personally. The music doesn't really enthrall (aside from the bands who inspired the whole mess, Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers), and the "scene" is closer to a latter day yuppie approximation of the hippie ideal with all the clothes and chemicals but none of the vitality or insight.

The New England collective, The Tower Recordings, has been weaving eerie, broken musicbox folk spells for a decade now. In that time, various members have broken off to do their own gigs; some have toured in ensembles that I've mentioned elsewhere in this ongoing chronicle of excess. Early albums like "Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles" (Siltbreeze) and "The Fraternity of Moonwalkers" (Audible Hiss) are bound to confuse, and even occasionally amaze, on first listens with their mix of detuned clangy drones and warped folk and blues ghosts. Hold up a minute, that sounds like about half the music covered here! Yes, you're onto something, brother. The Tower Recordings are one of the first bands I ever heard that struck me as a post Throbbing Gristle answer to the Incredible String Band. And I mean that only as praise. Throbbing Gristle were one of the first "rock bands" to seriously debunk the notion of what rock music can be, or psychedelia for that matter. The Incredible String band did the same thing within the idiom of folk, and The Tower Recordings ask the same question in regards to folk, blues and traditional music with virtually all of their recorded output to date. Those early albums should be viewed like musical puzzles: each listen offers a new chance to slide something into place. What sounds like half-assed, amateurish balderdash are in fact carefully designed despondent folk lapses backed with primitive electro skronk and swill that actually make sense when heard in a larger context. The Tower Recordings are a broken folk band for a broken folk world, but they always play with their hearts and heads turned skyward.

At a time when the world seems mostly intent on self-destruction, the Tower Recordings have gone and almost healed themselves. "The Galaxies Incredibly Sensual Transmission Field of the Tower Recordings" (Communion) is among the most fluid, engrossing and accessible folk dreams to emanate from this remarkable group yet. It's relatively short (just over 30 mins), but every bit the transportational vessel from start to finish, opening slowly like an old carnival carousel slowly spinning faster with the cycling folk rhythms of acoustic guitars and back masked vocals of "Harvester" and finally regenerating as a blues folk resurrection on "Other Kinds Run." The four intervening tracks are classic examples of twilight zone Americana, strange acid folk, and heaven-sent crude electronic noise. The mix is amazing, the vocals, the stories and lyrics, and the cohesion of the piece as a whole is pretty much what I'd expect from the same people responsible for "The Well of Memory" and "Ragas and Blues." The journey may be short, but it's ripe with vivid scenery.

Blacker modes are explored on "Live 2" (Threshold House), the second in a series, third released, of 4 live Coil albums recorded in the early 2000's. This is my latest attempt at coming to terms with this tortured and unique band who died last month when it's founder Jhonn Balance was taken in a tragic fall at his home. Recorded 4 days after 9-11 in Moscow in 2001, the CD features six of Coil's distinctive electro/industrial sound exorcisms, my favorite possibly being opening "Something: Higher Beings Command," a spine-tingler with Balance's spoken word intoning, "I dedicate this performance to the moon...to madness, to madness, to madness..." before Sleazy literally engulfs the capacity club in lacerating windstorms of overdriven machine hums and electro-whooshes. This is what industrial music should sound like, and I can't even begin to attempt to capture in words the psychotropic values of such a performance. Though the trance-inducing synth/beat pulse of "Amethyst Deceivers" could do it in sound. Don't even get me started on the closing rendition of "Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil," 17 mins of sexually charged spoken word sacrilege and primal machine drone and innerspace laser beams that end up sounding sort of like the slow warning siren for an apocalypse as brought on by thee ultimate doomsday machine.

Now moving up further North along the globe to Sweden, home of guitar maestro Björn Olsson, integral to the artistic success of Union Carbide Productions in the 80s and the Soundtrack of Our Lives in the 90s. He left the Soundtrack right after completion of their second album though, and sadly took much of their originality with him. Since, he's kept busy making solo psychedelic soundtrack albums, including the stunning "Instrumentalmusik: Instrumental Music...to Submerge in...and Disappear Through" (Omplatten), and "UPA" (Gravitation), which just arrived in my box recently. His brand new self titled album should be here soon. Back to "UPA" though, it comes as two versions of nine tracks, seven of which are bookended by expansive numbers that flirt overtly with psychedelic textures. Opener "Schweinfest" is a festive number that brings Caribbean percussion into the progressive age with Olsson's meticululosuly placed fuzz bursts pushing an infectious dance melody. Repetitious and infectious like giddy Krautrock. A more caustic rawk response to this is found in "Tema 1," an extended bout of overdriven space/psych rock that clearly reveals Olsson's affinity for Krautrock, Zeppelin and more dance-floor designated material at the same time. No, he doesn't employ a rack of samples, just a bit of a house beat on live percussion and a barrage of lysergic feedback runs. In between we get a smorgusboard of stylistic detours (via instruments all played by the man himself), from Burt Bacharach infused light-psych to Spaghetti Western soundtracks and more. Whatever chosen path Olsson chooses to traverse, he does so with wit and originality...and mystery. There are no wasted moments in this man's hands. It's a shame he split from TSOOL, but given the depth of his instrumentation and his ideas, it's also understandable that someone so talented would shy away from the soul-sucking glare of the commercial eye.

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