Tagged: psychedelic

A Spineless Descent: deeply hypnotic ambient black metal psychedelia debut

Grok, A Spineless Descent, United States, E.E.E. Recordings, CD (2016)

For those of us who miss the sprawling and darkly hypnotic music of Light Shall Prevail and Njiqahdda from years ago, the fellow behind those bands and E.E.E. Recordings, E Henderson, has resurfaced with a new project Grok that also features a second member, known as CJH, on vocals. Grok sounds superficially similar to those past projects though the duo’s style is less noisy and is more spacious with a much greater emphasis on keyboard-generated atmospheric tones and effects. Dare I hope that Grok heralds a return to the glory days of Njiqahdda of a decade ago?

You need to play this album a few times to appreciate its atmospheres fully: yes, they are dark and very spacious, and filled with deep and complex emotions that seem to range from anger to despair and grief. Who knows from what cause such feelings have arisen? I have the impression that they arise from the disappointments that life metes out to us, from dashed expectations and loss of faith in the things and ideologies that we thought would guide us to spiritual fulfillment. In the place of these dashed hopes are disillusionment and a sober realisation that life and the universe are far more complicated, less benevolent and much more remote than we realise. We have only this planet as our home and ourselves and our fellow animal, plant and mineral travellers as our companions and sources of comfort and connection. The music ranges far and wide in the cold frigid darkness generated by the synthesiser wash and tone effects, the distant phantom growling vocals following where the melodies and percussion go.

The eight tracks are not all that distinctive in themselves and form a long soundtrack to an imaginary film of mesmeric dark psychedelic landscapes wherein dwell ghosts and spirits who might have inhabited our physical universe aeons ago, and have ascended (or descended) to other planes of existence. Drums and shifting keyboard ambience dominate, achieving a somewhat paradoxical effect in which melodies and riffs definitely exist yet if you try to concentrate on any one particular passage, the music ends up sounding formless. It goes where it will and the apparent lack of direction might frustrate listeners. Guitars have a very sparing presence though they do give the music a tough and forbidding aspect.

Perhaps the music could have done with some editing for length as parts do get repetitive and I admit there isn’t much Grok brings in here that wasn’t done previously with Njiqahdda. The vocals don’t stray far from their ghostly rasping tumbleweed style. While the album is great for icy atmospheres, listeners expecting more will be disappointed – within those deep spaces, there are more ghostly apparitions, deeper caverns of negative sound, like a never-ending chain of doors along a corridor opening onto more doors ad infinitum. But if you are happy to be immersed in deep hypnotic trance ambient black metal psychedelia, and are not asking for more, this album will satisfy you.

Long-Winded Small Talk

The Dwarfs Of East Agouza

A recent chapter in ex-Sun City Girl Alan Bishop’s saga of map-hopping exploits catches him in Cairo-based cahoots with like-minded lunatics Sam Shalabi and Maurice Louca for a turbulent turn in team-building. At the risk of selling it as Bishop’s thing, The Dwarfs of East Agouza sound like they might have been distant cousins of the Sun City Girls, had they grown up in post Arab-Spring Cairo instead of Phoenix. But it’s very much an egalitarian effort; blending distinctively non-western percussion, rambling microtonality and the awkward/irascible brand of echo-peddling psych-rock the Girls would lapse into now and again. And as per efforts such as Valentines From Matahari, there’s an assurance that the music’s charms will not be immediately evident.

What’s quickly clear however is that all sense of restraint has been canned: jams ring out in all directions for up to thirty minutes and ain’t about to stop for your peace of mind, nor mine. Or else they ramble on in muttered tones like Bishop’s Uncle Jim in caustic toad mode. In few other conditions could ‘Baka of the Future’ fake it as a sampler track, where itching beneath a bouncy bassline and narcotic organ riff we hear the signature scrapings of Alvarius B’s Jackson Pollock guitar. Skip through the 10-minute excursion and witness the trio almost suffocating in its own smog; the boys getting their groove on where most of us experience mental problems. Yet despite this airborne aggravation, their initial aimlessness achieves lucidity in all cases, and after repeat playbacks their sounds soak deeper into the nervous system.

For all the music’s purported lack of polish, there’s also a sense that the Dwarfs are trying hard not to sound like they’re trying hard. They want not for impish mischief nor discipline, and were it not for poly-musician Louca’s rhythmic chops and unseated tonal stylings, Shalabi and Bishop’s jagged and disgruntled string manipulations would be on much shakier ground. His horse-powered hand-drumming brings calm cohesion to the same chaos his shape-shifting keyboard modulations help to create; encompassing the whole nine yards between Arthur Russell-style organ stabs on ‘Hungry Bears Don’t Dance’ and opiate-drowned dream imagery in ‘Resinance’, both of which aim to resituate us in less defined modes of being. I will take this opportunity to remind you to buy his excellent solo album, Salute The Parrot.

The 30-minute ‘Museum of Stranglers (I-III)’ is everything you’d expect from a cosmic, side-long closer: A climatic creatio ex nihilo in dead air of echo pedal guitars; flutters of Alan Bishop’s recent post-skronk saxophony; the wooziest, most Lovecraftian electronics to manifest thus far; psych-rock tropes unleashed in full force; long stretches of little evident interest; time folding between threadbare lows and celestial highs where oblique and charged power lines soar, bestial purrs and gurgles taper to zero and an inverted, no-wave reprise (of sorts) of the opening theme marking our return to the point of origin. Even for a group with such avowedly irrational proclivities this lurching epic is a perversely gratifying patience-tester; the longer one listens, the stronger the sense of dissociation. A worthy debut to be sure!

Life, Sex and Death: a homage to a Tantric Hindu goddess and what she represents

Kids, don’t try this kind of DIY cosmetic surgery at home …

Cult of Fire, Life, Sex & Death, Czech Republic, Beyond Eyes, CD BE04 (2016)

Judging from the very ornate cover, I presume this mini-album is a celebration of the Tantra Hindu goddess Chhinnamasta – there’s even a track “Chhinnamasta Mantra” which as it says includes the mantra that Tantric devotees chant to attract women – and all that she represents: death, self-destruction / transformation, renewal, sexual energy. In short, the album celebrates the duality of existence: life / death, and the energy that binds it all together. Chhinnamasta the goddess is usually represented as a nude, self-decapitating goddess holding her head in one hand and a sword in the other, with blood spurting out from her neck to be captured by her attendants, and that’s the spectacular sight that greets potential listeners and separates the brave (and maybe the foolish) from the fearful and wary.

As it turns out though, the music is very epic in scope and exhilarating in mood. Its sound is probably a bit too thin and the drums too tinny to do it and its subject matter full justice. The band relies heavily on orchestral synthesiser backing to fill out the music’s sound when a guitars-n-drums set-up, with the appropriate production, could have been enough. The slavering vocals suit the music but reverb robs them of their full horror potential. The music runs the gamut from symphonic to classic minimal BM, melodic post-BM and even shoegazer BM in parts.

The one track that really stands out is the jangly “Chhinnamasta Mantra” for its female vocal chanting the mantra against an accompaniment of shrill jewel-toned guitar, background ambient effects and hand drumming. This has a very beautiful psychedelic sound and the mood is trancey and dream-like. Too bad it’s not long enough and seems to peter out just when you think it should dissolve in a shower of guitar and ambient sparkle effects. While the rest of the album charges with loads of spitfire fury to spare, the songs don’t differ from one another – though I suppose the concept of the album suggests they should all relate to one another and not be too individual – and if it weren’t for non-BM melodic touches like acoustic guitar or sitar in parts, the music would be very monotonous.

Shortcomings aside, this EP is very enjoyable if heard as one continuous work rather than as a set of four songs. Some time in the future it could be reworked with longer trance-like psychedelic music and with a better sound and production so that it celebrates all that Chhinnamasta represents in all her contradictory dualistic glory.

Brunt (self-titled): a good debut of instrumental psych doom fusion work-outs

Brunt, self-titled, Hevisike Records, vinyl edition HVSK-1201 (2014)

Since I heard this Channel Islands doom stoner trio’s “Blackbeard” EP, I’ve been looking for other stuff of theirs and found this self-titled album. Most tracks on the album are sprawling instrumental pieces of riff-dominated mood psychedelic doom sludge fusion and the fun starts right away with an extended sonorous drone tone riff, around which percussion weaves a constantly changing beat and rhythm structure, on the first half of “St Felix of Nola” – the second half being a more brooding wander in dark murky space out of which emerge a drum beat loop and then a whining steel-edged rhythm guitar churn topped with an oily high-pitched wobble lead guitar solo. We’re in for a very interesting ride through fields and valleys of atmospheric psych doom stoner melange if this first track is any guide.

With its distinctively playful rhythm loops, “The Tale of the Hideous Tricorn” sounds almost tongue-in-cheek though the lyrics about the origin of Satan and humanity might possibly be more serious than they read. Whatever you think of the lyrics, the music certainly is an enjoyable ride with long lead guitar improvisations and bouncy percussion. “Rabbit of Cannabong” – for a moment I thought this might be a homage to the killer bunny in that old Monty Python flick about King Arthur and his knights in search of the Holy Grail – is just as good to listen to, mixing a smart-n-sassy rhythm section run with a slower, more concrete-slab passage of booming bass and hard-slapping drumwork. The bass work-outs here might just be the best parts of the song, which is really saying something as the whole track smoulders with crunch and crumble guitar textures.

The album gets better and better with “A Concise Cosmic History Of The Swob Monster Pt1 (The Birth Of Fuzz)” which elbows everything that’s gone before with spiky angular riffs that continue to elaborate throughout the track. There’s more of that molten-lava lead guitar attack before the whole piece morphs into a huge doom sluggernaut monster making its sedate way down the Milky Way.

All tracks are well composed and tend to consist of two sometimes very different parts with the second part a bit slower and heavier than the first. There’s an emphasis on a few distinct riffs repeating over and over on tracks and I suppose as long as they’re fairly short they won’t be too monotonous for most listeners. The songs probably could be a bit longer and feature more variation and development of melodies and riffs than they do. Most tracks suffer a little from not having a vocalist (even if that vocalist does nothing more than howl or chant nonsense gibberish) and a couple of lines of poetry. While the clean production gives the music a very contemporary sound and all instruments can be heard (and enjoyed) clearly, at the same time the music gives the impression of being a bit flat and almost one-dimensional, and needing an extra layer of sound to give it depth.

Even so, with all its faults this self-titled album is a great way to become acquainted with psych doom fusion music and Brunt in particular.

Keef Mountain (self-titled): a powerful start to a retro-70s doom stoner band’s career

Keef Mountain, self-titled, United States, The Company, THECO-001 CD digipak (2016)

Hard to believe that this is Keef Mountain’s debut album and all the music is the work of just two musicians: this is really massive and powerful, a very confident and self-assured recording with a definite message that celebrates transcendence and the various modes of achieving it. The band manages to be retro-1970s stoner doom in style and sheer heaviness yet the music sounds fresh and up-to-date due to a good balance between a distorted fuzzy guitar sound and a clean production that gives the songs a minimal and spacious quality. The songs are short and straight to the point in their delivery, with strong tough riffing that defines the tracks’ identities. While the singing is shouty, it’s very clear and isn’t overwhelmed by the music.

Opener “Green Wizard” might clock under five minutes but it has three quite distinct parts: a slow instrumental introduction followed by a speedy middle section where the best riffs and singing are bunched together, and a silly finale featuring a spoken-word recording about the worth of taking drugs over organised religion. Fortunately the found sound recording is the only hokey part of the album so if listeners can hang on, they’ll be well rewarded. “Psilocybin Queen” is a better indicator of what listeners can expect: focused songs stressing good solid doom riffing, plenty of jamming and no unnecessary meandering or filler material. If anything, the songs could afford to be a bit longer so listeners can savour the more doomy and abrasive rhythm guitar crunching – some of those riffs are sledgehammer- heavy – or the more spaced-out trippy ambient parts where they exist.

Surprisingly the album’s best moments come after the halfway point when we think the band can’t possibly keep up the standard anymore and we start expecting the inevitable slide into filler-zone territory: “Resin Lung” introduces a light psychedelic or sci-fi influence with treated vocal leading into a frenzy of bass grind riffing. “Hendog” is much slower and sludgier with eerily treated vocals that sound as if their owner was stuck in a space capsule high above Earth; the song later collapses into a series of powerful crashing riffs. “Higher Realms” is a gritty and sometimes darkly brooding resolution of the album’s themes and ideas in just over six compact minutes.

All the songs are good as they are, though they probably could do with more atmosphere than they have, and different atmospheres at that so they are more distinctive from one another. Keef Mountain have a powerful and bass-heavy style that could be even more so if they let fly on longer songs with more instrumental and improvised music. I’d be keen on the duo following up with a longer  album with themes and ideas going beyond dope-smoking and rituals of transcendence – these guys seem more than capable of taking their listeners on long extended journeys through vistas of inner time and space.

Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki: a good but not great fusion of old school black metal and space psychedelia


Abyssion, Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki, Finland, Svart Records, SVR343 CD digipak / vinyl (2015)

Apparently the album’s title translates into English as “The Harmony of Nature and the Green Flame” and the music bears a very superficial resemblance to Filosofem-period Burzum but there’s little about the album that’s either calming or pop-friendly for listeners. There’s a strong industrial / punk / garage feel to the music which through continuous tremolo micro-repetition and harsh abrasive guitar textures achieves an effect of ever-flowing levitating music which can have an unsettling impact on listeners. This feeling of being adrift is magnified by the use of synthesiser-generated cold space ambience and a severely raspy machine vocal reminiscent of Daleks gone psycho (for those of you who watch Doctor Who). It soon becomes obvious that, in the hands of Abyssion members Jose Rossi and Antti Varis, raw punky 1990s-period black metal becomes the launch-pad for sonic experimentation that takes the band and its followers into dark and deranged realms far beyond BM while still retaining a connection, however stretched out it becomes, to that genre.

Intro track “Luonnon Harmonia” sets the pace with a rock-n-roll rhythm, swirling psychedelic effects and a screeching vocal in what’s otherwise a no-nonsense throwback to old school BM. The drumming is close to overwhelming thunder on the second track but apart from that and the screaming, the music doesn’t raise its head much above a sedate pace until its last couple of moments. It’s not until we come to “Vihreä Liekki” that Abyssion comes close to the promise of the album’s opening track: demented demonic singing, a mix of fast and slow rhythms, psychedelic space-ambient effects that reach sky-high and dip down far below, a scrabbly lead guitar solo near the end, all of which are buoyed by solid tremolo guitar textures, combine to make the song a major highlight of the album.

Just when you think the band couldn’t be any more inspired after “Vihreä Liekki”, out comes “Ajatus kirkastuu” which experiments with droning guitar feedback and more atmospheric droning space psychedelia to create a cold, remote and sometimes nauseous mood, and which features even more insane shrieking vocals and thundering percussion. No matter how extreme this song (and some of the other songs on the album) becomes, the rhythm guitars still anchor everything in place with solid riff abrasion. The last track continues on, this time with some shrieky lead guitar soloing and furious stickwork, but it quickly runs out of puff and settles into a melodic BM groove.

For the first few times the album is a good listening experience with mostly short screechy songs and an inspired combination of raw punk, solid old school BM and cold space ambient psychedelic effects to spice up the music. After several repeated hearings though, you start to realise that the band is short on very catchy and memorable melodies and extended riffs, and that for all the vocal gymnastics the actual music doesn’t break into too much of a sweat. Perhaps sticking a bit too close to its black metal roots and not severing the connection with them and going into all-out blackened space derangement is Abyssion’s weak point here. Here’s a case where a band would seem to have everything going for it – but on closer inspection doesn’t have those inspired tunes that would take it far beyond the ends of the cosmos.

776: a monumental doom-sludge psychedelic re-imagining of the United States

Phantom Glue, 776, United States, Negative Fun Records, CD NF-025 (2016)

Being a typical dumb Australian, I thought “776” might have been a reference to when the Ancient Greek Olympic Games were first held. Heh-heh, is that ever a weird guess!!! Truth though is stranger than the imagination: “776” is a metonym for US band Phantom Glue’s re-imagining of the United States as having existed for over a thousand years in an alternative though parallel universe, a United States where the Declaration of Independence had not yet been signed. Appropriately the album “776” is a mix of the mythical and mystical, and the uncompromising and hard-hitting, perhaps as much a commentary on the current nation as it is an exploration of a fantasy alternative.

Opening track “Ion Cloud” and follow-up “Hundred Hand” capture both sides of the album’s concept, at once screeching hardcore, sludge, doom and psychedelic, with the music bordering on overwhelming and monstrous in parts. The vocal seems as much disembodied as distant – the Phantom Glue singer doesn’t even try to compete with the full-on bludgeon attack – as if it really is a messenger from the parallel universe of 776 come to warn us of doom. Once PG have our full attention and concentration, the band dives further into its alternate reality with “Somatic”, a slower, more sludge juggernaut track with thundering percussion, steely rhythm guitars and a squalling lead guitar snaking around the edges of the song. So concrete-crunching is this song that it’s easy to forget that it’s only five minutes long. “Somatic” pairs well with “A Worker-less Mill”, an equally monumental song and staggering in its structuring where the thumping drums take centre stage building up a tower of thudding beats. Guitars stutter or howl around the percussion and the vocals almost shrink to raspy screams. The song is crowned with a corrosive acid ambience that burns and etches deeper-than-deep holes in your consciousness.

The pile-driving psychedelia punishment continues all the way to the end; the band seems to lose a bit of momentum with “Suttungr” which starts off slowly and lethargically but recovers energy and speeds up in its second half. “Hocheim’s War” is a definite head-banging grooving rocker with as much noisy hardcore crispness and crunch as creepy acid-bleached lead guitar flurry. Closing track “Gog is Dead” is the most atmospheric song, though not necessarily in a benign way: the doom is dark, sinister and haunted-house menacing. The song builds up in overpowering intensity and immersive blackness that literally leave folks hanging on the edge of a cliff descending into a bottomless abyss.

This music is so huge, monstrous and at times terrifying that listeners might well be glad it doesn’t last long (it’s about 36 minutes in length) and the more sensitive among you might need another 36 minutes to get the band’s music and terrifying dystopian visions out of your heads. I’m almost grateful that the production on this album is less than what the music deserves – the music (especially the drumming) does have a tinny sort of sound and doesn’t feel as three-dimensional solid as it should – or I might have been sent deranged. This is one album to be heard at least once, if only so you can tell your friends you survived the experience – but just barely. Definitely an experience not to be passed up!

Estron: a fun and enjoyable album of sci-fi sludge doom

Slomatics, Estron, Head of Crom Records, CROM7 12″ red vinyl (limited edition) (2014)

Flush from reviewing their most recent album “Future Echo Returns”, I decided to back-track through Slomatics’ past recordings to see what other juicy low-hanging fruit the Belfast blasters had on offer and stopped by “Estron”. Originally available in vinyl format as a limited edition release by Head of Crom Records in 2014, this album presents the trio as a Melvins-style sludge doom metal band, no more and no less, with experimental and psychedelic tendencies. Now “Estron” may be the band’s fourth release but it’s also its first with vocalist / drummer Marty Harvey so listeners can expect a second beginning for Slomatics here. If you’re not familiar with Slomatics but want an entry into the band’s work, you can start with this album and either go forwards or back into the guys’ back catalogue.

The album starts strongly with two tracks: first up is “Troglorite”, featuring a high-pitched wailing vocal (it’s a bit reedy to be honest), solid booming guitars and lots of crashing cymbals and sturdy solid drumming; then the band swings straight into the next song “Tunnel Dragger” without pause for rest, at least until halfway through where the music breaks off for a short space-ambient interlude of synthesiser-theremin interplay. This is the first indication that the band is dipping into space psychedelic territory and it fits in well with the musicians’ bludgeoning tactics.The band continues with the sludge doom punishment and the futuristic sci-fi themes with tracks like “Futurian” and “Lost Punisher” – at least the songs on the first half of the album are fairly short for music of this genre and don’t overstay their head-bashing welcome. While the musicians don’t depart much from the template set with “Troglorite”, the music moves fast and there’s enough variety in the melodies and riffs that listeners are rarely bored. You’d think that the thin vocals, far back in the mix, might be fighting hard to be heard but the production (courtesy of James Plotkin, without whose studio engineering abilities entire music industries simply would grind to a halt) is clean enough that the singing is clear and not too shouty.

Songs in the album’s second half are more varied – they start to feature lead guitar solos – and apart from one short instrumental are much longer than earlier songs. “And Yet It Moves” is a sinister, oily track, very unsettling and nauseous, and with a very claustrophobic feel as the heavy riffs close in on your ears and head. In its later moments it becomes lethargic and sluggish as the very alien atmosphere surrounding it infiltrates your senses through those hellish liquid metal lead guitar licks. The very brief, all space-ambient “Red Dawn” provides a bit of light delicate rest and relief before the band launches into the 10-minute “The Carpenter” whose title I sometimes wonder might be a reference to the film director John Carpenter who made a number of sci-fi / horror films in the 1970s and 80s that are now regarded as cult classics. This last track plays like a mini-soundtrack to an imaginary sci-fi / horror short and shows a side of Slomatics that until now has rarely been glimpsed: an ability to weld atmosphere, mood and music into a definite drama, where death-dealing doom sludge and space-ambient electronics combine into a monster that commands your attention and compels you to follow it to the very bitter end.

As a whole work and as a set of songs, the album demonstrates a high level of thought and care that went into its creation. There is a real sense of listeners being softened up in the album’s first half for its later, more atmospheric and complex tracks. All songs are well crafted and there’s hardly any filler in any of them. Slomatics don’t just hammer away with huge chunks of doom riffing for the sheer hell of it (though you do sense they love punishing their fans) but whatever they do, it’s always with intent and knowledge of the effects left behind. The result is a very satisfying work of art that’s as much fun to hear as it must have been fun for Slomatics to create and record.

Future Echo Returns: heavy doom with hard iron sludge, atmospherics and psychedelia is a winner


Slomatics, Future Echo Returns, United Kingdom, Black Bow Records, CD (2016)

In the liner notes of a past album of theirs, Belfast-based Slomatics proclaim themselves middle-class professionals by day and aggro-sludge losers by night; on the strength of their most recent release “Future Echo Returns”, I wish that (at least in their corner of the UK anyway) there be more night, 24 hours of it in fact all … night long each day … or night. But that would probably require my part of the world, at the opposite end from where Slomatics reside, to be continuous daylight and I definitely would be most dissatisfied at being forced to be a middle-class professional myself 24/7.

One great thing about “Future Echo Returns” is that all the songs run from one into the next so that the album presents as a continuously flowing work that starts with thick crumbly doom metal riff slabs that transform into hard iron sludge and later into more atmospheric and mellow heavy rock, all of it with a strong psychedelic / sci-fi fantasy edge thanks to synth melody trimmings placed strategically around the heavy doom sluggernaut riff machine. At first the vocals, riding high on the doom beast, seem a bit lost – this music really suits a more guttural death metal vocal style but never mind – but they are clear and I don’t have the impression that the singing is fighting too hard for attention. Keyboards are used sparingly and to add atmospheric nuance to the grinding music.

An early highlight is the booming “In the Grip of Fausto” which brings in a hardcore edge in the shouty singing. With emphatic pounding martial drums and stentorian riffs that demand your full attention, this song might well become Slomatics’ anthem in years to come. After this track and the preceding two songs which crush all resistance to the doom sludge approach, the album takes an unexpected turn into airy silver mellowness with “Ritual Beginnings”, albeit with the same uncompromising attitude that never lets go of your senses but insists on absorbing them fully. The ambience is still alien and otherworldly thanks to swirling keyboard silver filigree tones.

“Rat Chariot” brings us back to serious ritual riff worship – and boy, are there plenty of stern riff structures to keep your ears and brains in thrall. The vocals can get a little strained and probably a more multi-tracked vocal approach or several different voices singing the “lord and master” chorus would have suited the song better. After this track the band stumbles a bit on “Supernothing” with ill-advised choirboy singing but the trio recovers for “Into the Eternal”, a long cruising piece taking in booming doom drone guitar tones, bleached-out ghost voices high in an acid sky and a wobbly background tone – a fitting journey into another plane of existence. Shrill solo lead guitar takes over high priest duties when the singing stops temporarily. The heavy doom procession pulls the congregation (meaning all you listening to the album) behind. None can resist following even when the music tails off into a lone bass coda.

On the whole this album is very strong, even with one weak(ish) track in its second half: while the Slomatics men love their doom metal sound and riffs, they also know that their sound and riffs deserve the very best songwriting skills and production. The result is a recording full of memorable songs that just seem to zip by in spite of their gastropod pace. The album is put together so well that it really flies like a breeze and each song shows evidence of care, thought and craft. Aggro-sludgenauts Slomatics may be but these fellas are definitely no losers!

Cantosynaxis: a rich and amazing universe of retro-electro synthesiser sound art awaits within

Andrew Douglas Rothbard

Andrew Douglas Rothbard, Cantosynaxis, Tapes From The Gates, cassette 012 (2015)

When I got this cassette in the mail, the gaudy colours of the cover art and the neon-light stylings of the album title and artist credits should have been warning enough that I was going to be treated to some really surreal retro-electro-synthesiser soundscapes. And sure enough, from start to finish, all the way through, without pause or even a few micro-seconds of white-noise relief, this recording takes you on an extended journey through some amazing electro-disco vistas of wobble bubble drone, soaring tone and clappy-clappy percussion beats. To think that the fiend behind this tape, one Andrew Douglas Rothbard, created and recorded this incredible universe of mind-melting sound art on his own – yes, all of it sprung from his feverish, fertile mind. He builds the music with layer upon layer of modular synthesisers, all seemingly at variance with one another, and the result is so thick with melody, beats, rhythms and evocations of imagery pulled from all the hidden corners of the brain that the tape seems at least an hour than it really is and demands several hearings for everything to really soak in … if your mind is able to accommodate all that “Cantosynaxis” offers.

The best way to listen to “Cantosynaxis” is to hear the tape right through – and the cassette format does make any other kind of listening difficult – and to keep looping, as there most definitely is an over-arching if not always logical structure to the whole thing. Yes, the music is broken up into 11 tracks but keeping track of them and trying to recall which one is which when so much is happening and your head is off in the far pink and purple clouds with multi-coloured fairies is far beyond difficult. It dances over hills and through dales spanning the entire colour spectrum and is a creature of varied moods and emotions. There are definite alt-pop sensibilities present along with the experimentalism and the go-for-it attitude, and on the whole the music is very vibrant, bright and positive in outlook and expansive and sprawling in style.

While the whole album is good and there’s no filler, the one track that stands out is the long delirious one that starts off Side B of the tape.

Personally I think this album would have been better served as a CD or a vinyl release: the singing is not always very distinct (though it’s not intended to be separate from the rest of the music but rather become another sound element that adds another layer of meaning) and the sound quality typical of cassettes does blunt the music and make it seem flatter and less nuanced than it deserves. The more I hear this album, the more convinced I am that the music would be far better served on the aforementioned formats. I understand though that Tapes From The Gates is a small cassette-only set-up masterminded by one Christopher Bartus whose day job is customer services manager for a Florida-based organic food grocery store.