Slow beats, free jams and existential ponderings
Time bends a little as you traverse these eight songs. Everything takes longer than you expect it to, but you don’t mind. The slow blues jam of “Pale Rider Blues” sustains itself for nearly nine minutes, gathering heft and inevitability as it moves massively along. The call-and-response reverie “The Rise” builds like an African field chant, all mist and mystery, then explodes into vintage 1960s amplified drone. There are long pauses between vocal phrases and solos that unfold over minutes not seconds. It’s a slower, more considering place, bounded by the traditions of rock, jazz and blues, but with openings for free flight.
Arbouretum’s second disc (the first was on tiny Boxtree Records) is a remarkable outing, melding the righteous rigor and lattice-regular guitar patterns of early Americana with Gnostic bursts of unfettered psychedelia. On Rites of Uncovering, Anomoanon drummer Dave Heumann’s rough-hewn voice seldom rises above a weary murmur, voicing exhaustion, disillusionment and persistence in gentle eddies and flourishes. It is the quietest sound, by far, on this strangely hypnotic album, yet it gives shape and humanity to the songs on the disk.
Rites of Uncovering was recorded mostly live, with a core group that includes Heumann on guitar, Walker David Teret on multiple instruments, Mitchell Feldstein (Lungfish) and David Bergrander (Love Life and the Celebration) on drums, and Core Allender on bass. The CD has a freewheeling, anything-can-happen feel to it; even after you’ve listened to it more than once, it seems that the guitar solos could head off into any number of directions.
The lyrics are elliptical, evocative and complex with internal rhythms and alliterations. (Try saying “Take the taste of task and toil / and clear this day of hiss and recoil,” from “Tonight’s a Jewel”, out loud.) The words suggest, but never spell out, the album’s themes of personal exploration and belief. “Signposts spin and instruments lie,” Heumann observes, in the opening track “Signposts and Instruments”. Grandiose illusions and “figments of figments” litter the psychic landscape, and true seekers are left to find their own way. The music, in its own way, seems like part of that search, simple melodies merely a jumping off point for wandering meditations and explosive insights.
The disc starts with a fuzz of deep-toned bass, notes hanging so low and so heavy with distortion that can only proceed at a glacial pace. They are weighted down, these tones, more like some natural event than any conventional musical device, and as they are joined, by slacked-out drum beats and David Heumann’s echo-laden, mystic voice, you enter into another rhythm of existence. “Signposts and Instruments”, this first track, like “Pale Rider Blues” dips heavily into 1960s psychedelia and hard rock, conjuring the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath and Neil Young in their amplified heaviness. Other cuts—“Tonight’s the Jewel” and “Sleep of Shiloam”—are more folk-centric, reminding you of the time Heumann’s done with Will Oldham (whose brother Paul recorded about a third of these tracks).
It’s really only with the 11-minute “The Rise” that Heumann triumphantly and unclassifiably brings the two traditions together. Starting just with cymbal beats and drum fills, the piece morphs into a fierce, nearly a cappela call and response with Heumann singing out verses and an all-male chorus responding, “Oh, the rise.” Electric guitar shoulders its way into the mix about a minute and a half along, wiggling in and out of the drum beat in amplified fuzziness, wringing 16th notes out of the spaces between cymbal crashes and distant, half-heard bass plucks. The solo extends for about four minutes, then the piece breaks entirely. There’s a pause and then a much softer reprise of the original melody on guitar. The singing resumes, a string of lovely natural images answered by the chorus “Oh, the rise.” And then it’s back to Hendrix-y freakouts and heavy amplification. It sounds discontinuous, but every phase of this long composition leads naturally into the next, and you end feeling righteously exhausted, as if you’d been through some necessary and difficult task.
These meditative songs may take longer than you think they will, but what worthy undertaking doesn’t? Rites of Uncovering is the sort of record that feels like more than a record, more like a spiritual journey.