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Psychedelic music blog covering psychedelic, folk, drone, metal, and all other forms of out music.

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Shuttle 358 – Understanding Wildlife

May 28, 2011

shuttle 358 understanding wildlifeNow, I understand that Shuttle 358 isn’t drone music by any traditionally prescribed definitions of the term, but bear with me here.  If we’re going to agree that drone music uses a minimal palette (even if that palette is sometimes subsequently applied in maximal ways), Shuttle 358’s Understanding Wildlife, producer Dan Abrams’s 2002 album, ably fits that bill.  And while there’s less of an emphasis on sustaining tones, Shuttle 358 certainly exemplifies the powers of repetition and mood exploration that most drone exhibits.

Shuttle 358, and Understanding Wildlife in particular, comes from that moment around the turn of the century where electronic genres like clicks & cuts/glitch and microhouse made music from an ever-shrinking library of sonic possibilities.  This music was less about breadth and more about depth—depth of sound and of orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy, in the form of paring down and stripping away whenever possible, is important here: Clicks & cuts,* like several other highly specialized subgenres, was always more about experimentation than visceral connection.  I mean “experimentation” the literal sense of testing, too, not just its typical musical meaning (which is, I think, supposed to mean “strange”).  Sometimes these tests would yield engaging work, as is the case with Vladislav Delay’s fascinating output.  By and large, though, clicks & cuts was music to be thought about more than it was to be felt.**

So out of that knotty paragraph, we’ve yielded this: Clicks is cold music, and Shuttle 358 is clicks-oriented.  Instead of sounding dry, distant, and clinical, however, Understanding Wildlife sounds intimate, warm, and vital.

It’s immediately telling that the first song on Understanding Wildlife, the finely gorgeous “Finch,” begins with what sounds like a synthesized harp voice.  It’s a rich, warm, golden tone at odds with the eviscerated sine waves you might typically expect from an album like this.  Indeed, though Shuttle 358 certainly incorporates elements of clicks & cuts, they’re not the central focus of the album.  Instead, they become a foundation upon which a subtly shifting set of soothing, low-profile tones are built.  It’s a simple formula, repeated time and again, but the collective effect is the evocation of supreme peace, a temporal suspension, an immersion into dark, warm waters.

Understanding Wildlife turns restraint, normally a distancing attribute, into an intimate one.  The effect is at once very quiet and very close.  You want to lean into this album, to envelop yourself in its unassuming world of small and unexpected beauty.

*The name comes from a series of compilations curated and released by the German record label Mille Plateaux.  Clicks & cuts takes the disorienting abstraction of glitch to its minimal extreme, all sterilized high pings, metallic scrapes, and subaquatic bass detonations.

**Apologies if I offend anyone who really bawls out to those Mille Plateaux comps.  I’d love to hear your perspective on mine.  I just don’t really get a deep upswell of emotion when I listen to Farben or early Pole (which is admittedly extremely rarely, if ever), and I suspect that that’s not the point.

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Peaking Lights – 936

May 26, 2011

peaking lights 936I’ve really really really really really been digging 936, the new Peaking Lights album.  To describe an album as a “stew” is such a shitty music crit cliche but I’m fighting a strong urge to employ it to describe this record.  Because, really, that’s what 936 is, a steaming, humid pot of stick-to-your-ribs ingredients simmered long and slow until everything blends together into something appetizing, inviting, and of a piece.  And yeah, it’s fucking delicious and it tastes better the next day.  What about it?

About those ingredients: There’s dubby production (and I mean dubby as in, echoing guitar stabs, rivers of deep, burbling bass, and cavernous expanses of dark, sultry space, not dubby as in “reverb”), muffled and clattering percussion like a robotic drumkit breaking down, perfectly artless female coos, spiraling and arcing sound effects without origin, and trebly wefting keyboards.  On 936, Peaking Lights combine carefully measured, varying quantities of each of these and make some seriously circular and ever-deepening musical hypnosis.  This album is one of the more engrossing, replayable things I’ve heard come out in quite a while.

Though 936 is Peaking Lights’s best foray into immersive psychedelic wormhole-construction, it’s not their first.  Their previous album, 2009’s Imaginary Falcons, was a nearly great record that fell just short in a couple areas.  For one, the rich, syrupy low-end that keeps nearly every song on 936 anchored in the sublime is nowhere to be found, and it’s sorely missed.  Instead of riding supple, sweltering grooves, songs (tracks?) on Imaginary Falcons float in a helium’d aether.  They’re incredibly, almost disorientingly trippy.  And as much as I’m into disorientingly trippy, the bass backbone on 936 is welcome.  The results range from the simply addictive (as on “All the Sun that Shines” to the positively time-warping (which the transformative “Birds of Paradise Dub Version” most certainly is).

Peaking Lights has also shown an increased interest in actual legitimate songwriting on 936.  Though it’s obvious that the duo is still totally in love with getting lost in the aural possibilities available to them, it’s no longer enough for them to suture a handful of otherworldly sonic elements together and let it ride for a few minutes (not that that approach is necessarily bad).  No, now melodies (or at least grooves) are of preeminent importance, with assorted intergalactic and subterranean sounds providing (welcome) filligree.  That means we get songs (songs!) like the gorgeously sweet and totally unexpected “Key Sparrow,” an adorably lilting melody that is at once soaring and small-screen, bleary and sparkling.

I’ll be honest: “Key Sparrow” is, really, the whole reason why I wanted to write this thing.  It’s new love and dreaming and nostalgia and warmth and flitting surges of hope and sadness wrapped into a perfect four-minute package.  I don’t think I’ve been as desperately in love with a song all year.  It’s beautiful and small and it secrets away an infinitude of fine-grained emotions in it.

Love it:

 

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Moa Moa – Serpentine EP

May 16, 2011

moa moa serpentine epNo more Austin Psych Fest reviews because I only went the first day.*  Let’s change it up!  Here we have the Serpentine EP by Austin-based minimalist psych duo Moa Moa.  Man, am I on top of my shit—they released their EP on Bandcamp yesterday!  I’m so good.  I’m the next Anderson Cooper.  Plop me in a warzone and watch me be dreamy.

Sorry, I’m sick and loopy on meds.

Anyway, Moa Moa burns through a surprisingly eclectic array of druggy, distended psychedelic moods across Serpentine’s six brief tracks, ranging from “Charlie,” a blessedly trashy and hard-charging slice of  garage punk, to “Seachild,” a scraping, seesawing dirge.  The EP’s closing song, “Morning/Onfire,” is particularly impressive, opening with an eerie flute-and-drum drone reminiscent of Fursaxa before abruptly veering into a sweet acoustic duet recalling Sleepy Sun’s more bucolic moments.  Yum.

Ryan and Leah—Moa Moa’s principals—treat negative space with respect, letting each dissipated note and wasted boy/girl harmony stretch out into tiny infinities.  Despite this, they manage to do a lot with very little, repeatedly combining the same ingredients—cavernous effects, a hollowed-out and tinny guitar tone, and some supremely seductive singing—into diverse and delicious psychedelic confections.

Serpentine is a quick, sweet hit, and I hope to hear Moa Moa stretch out onstage in Austin sometime soon.  You can listen to the EP here.

*More on that later, perhaps.  Perhaps not.  In case I never get to it, I’ll just say there needed to be more Moa Moas roaming around and fewer Places to Bury Strangers there.

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