Limbic grooves and communal soundscapes
Recorded in September 2004, live with no overdubs, Loss of Affect is the latest of half a dozen or so albums from a long-standing psychedelic collective led by guitarist Eric Arn. Arn has been making music since the 1980s, first with Crystallized Movements (the first Twisted Village band with Wayne Rogers and Kate Village) and with the ever-changing Primordial Undermind. Arn and his wife Vanessa were already packing to leave Austin for their new home in Vienna, Austria, when they made this record, gathering long-time collaborators like reed and percussion specialist Otis Cleveland, drummer Johnny Mac and bassist Joe Volpe for one last Texas session. Their output, all improvised, ranges from abstract and foreboding soundscapes to driving 1960 jams to gentle finger-picked guitar reveries; all excellent, all arising like steam out of a bubbling soup of jazz, rock, world and blues influences.
The disc begins with the mysterious “Intercessor”, with some sort of bowed stringed instrument, possibly guitar, dopplering off into menacing arcs, cymbals and trills of flute skittering atop. Dark, slow-paced, dotted with silences, the piece has an ominous quality, a sort of bottomless abyss implied by the whirr and moan of feedback, with brightly colored garlands around the edges. Like several other cuts, it has no discernible time signature or melody, but rather moves glacially on, allowing tones to mutate into strange, sustained shapes.
“Breathe Deep”, which follows, is an altogether different story, comprised of lovely hanging guitar chords which are left to drift and mutate on the air, space left between them for thought or prayer or, perhaps given title, breath. The cut is very similar to the “Wolf” songs on Six Organs of Admittance’s latest, a traditional tune with long spaces interspersed for meditation, very beautiful and utterly calm.
With “3rd Class Sissy”, however, we get the first of several rock-oriented compositions. The piece evolves very slowly over a rattle and clatter of percussion, a few twanging, Western-style guitar notes over top, gradually taking over the sonic space with low-toned bass notes in the interstices. Around the one-minute mark, you hear the crash of cymbal and the kick drum coming in, and suddenly it’s surreally spaghetti Western, all endless dry spaces and lonely skies and a sax muttering away sotto voce. The piece builds gradually, with long shattering guitar notes, frayed into noise at the edges, one bleeding into another with the sax bleating desperately and the cymbals clanging. It’s pure headlong madness, grounded but only slightly by the beat and the mutter of bass. Later, “Driftglass” and “Blinding Stars” accomplish the same trick of seeming as free as the freest of jazz, while obviously having tethers to rock’s more four-square rhythmic idiom. You think Jimi Hendrix, you think Sabbath, you think NNCK, but you also think about Cecil Taylor…and that’s a trick worth doing.
The more experimental tracks cut loose from these foundations altogether, as in “Color of Nothing”, Vanessa Arn’s feverish, electro-squalling collaboration with Otis Cleveland. Again the bowing sound brings the piece forth out of drone, then the sound itself seems to fray and fragment, splintering into blurts and whines and clicks. There is sax in there—that’s Cleveland—breathily, feverishly oscillating between notes. On headphones you notice that the saxophone sound is coming into both ears, but not quite synchonrized. Like an echo or a premonition, the doubling creates even further uncertainty about what is real and what is imagined. Moreover, all sounds are filtered through vibrations like helicopter rotors churning the air, a muted pounding that you feel more than see. Just as striking, just as oddly compelling, “In Violation” builds out of waves of tone and overtone, spiritual whines and moans emerging from sonic muck. And then there is “Pertussis” moving into focus gradually as a clatter and rumble of percussion, a succession of pings and shaken tambourine, slowly takes shape. After a bit, Arn’s much-altered guitar tones sidle into the foreground, careening in and out of a haze, trailing jet streams of feedback. There is singing here, the first time all record, a man and a woman trading wordless ululations as in some sort of ritual.
Loss of Affect closes with the triumphant “Blinding Stars”, its feathery chords muted against a distant drone, a slow bass drum beat all that’s needed for structure, as the piece grows steadily more thunderous and lysergically 1960s. As the guitar distorts and erupts into slack-tempo’d, cement-heavy flourishes, the saxophone twists in smoke curls around it. Words like trippy and psychedelic were invented for this kind of music, but they seem inadequate here… try “revelatory” instead.