[27 July 2006]
The Mystic Chords of Memory—that’s Chris Gunst ex- of the Beachwood Sparks and Jen Cohen from the Aislers Set—make wonderfully diffuse pop psychedelia about animals and the natural world. It is nearly edgeless music, its cosmic cowboy vibe drifting endlessly against blue skies. Nobody (sometimes DJ Nobody) is Elvin Estrela, a long-time friend and sometime collaborator, the proprietor of a Southern California psychedelic radio show with an uncanny knack for blending trippy-hippy samples with downtempo and sophisticated urban beats. You’d imagine, when thinking about the pairing, that it would be up to Nobody to put some spine under the Mystic Chords airy, expansive flights of fantasy, and that is what he does. As a result, while Tree Colored See is not a radical departure from the Mystic Chords’ self-titled first album, it is a somewhat more rhythmic and complex affair.
Gunst appeared on Nobody’s last full-length album, Nobody and Everything Else; his delicate vocals atop the DJ’s minimal and elegant beat in “What is the Light?” Nobody stays much further in the background on this album, only a flourish here and there giving the hint that this is not just another Mystic Chords album. The shuffling percussion under opener “The Seed” remains reticent and distant, percolating at the periphery, but never overwhelming the wispy melody. “Coyote Song (When You Hear It, Too),” with its Elliott Smith-ish lilt, is even more folkily dreamy, with only a burbling keyboard expanding the western psyche palette. They’re both fine songs, but not really revelatory. The Mystic Chords could have done these cuts equally well on their own.
The collaboration becomes more interesting on cuts like “Decisions, Decisions,” and “Broaden a New Sound,” both tracks where the band experiments with unusual, soul-flavored sound. The former, in particular, offers subtle, unexpected textures with its trilling flute accompaniment (credited to Derf Reklaw) and wah-wah guitar intervals. The juxtaposition of Gunst’s beatific vocals and these ‘70s funk elements creates a crackling tension—a rarity on this mostly tranquil outing. With “Broaden a New Sound,” Cohen stabs out a soulful keyboard line that contrasts in interesting ways with the swooning melodic line. Later on the album, with “Walk in the Afterlight,” the band experiments with droning MBV-ish guitar sounds, which similarly ground and darken the sound.
As with the Mystic Chords debut, lyrics lean towards zen-like celebrations of the natural world. The final cut, “Floating”, is isolation-tank calming, all slow-blooming keyboard notes, steel guitar (that’s Farmer Dave Scherr) and shivery cymbal rolls. “Floating, swimming in the Gulf of Mexico / warming up / fires on the beach in San Francisco” sings Gunst, in a soft tenor that hangs just above the music. Other cuts celebrate the joys of walking barefoot on the sand, the sounds of wind, a bird and a broken branch. It’s a simplicity movement of a record, seeking the good life in the here and now, and whether you buy it or not will depend partly upon how cynical you are.
This is a very pretty album from an engaging and likeable band. However, none of the cuts are as arresting as the one from last year’s Nobody and Everything Else. Perhaps things would run more smoothly if Nobody was in charge.