Guitar God Trippery, Laced with Sitar
Now eight albums and 15 years since Richard Franecki split from much-beloved F/I, the guitar-squalling, psych-wielding Vocokesh toils on, finding the interstices where Hendrix-y guitar solos meet psychotropic drone. Cinematic in scope, rock in beat, and Vulcan in its mind-melting properties, the trio’s latest, ...All This and Hieronymous Bosch, comes wrapped in a Carl Jung quote about the nightmarish Dutch painter of the title. It says “The master of the monstrous… the discoverer of the unconscious.” Fair enough. Liner notes also tip the hat to Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee, both psych pioneers who died while the Vocokesh was recording; however, if you’re looking for Syd’s whimsy or Arthur’s pop-soul melodicism in this album, you’ll have a tough time. This is slow, heavy, guitar-centric psych, more in line with Amon Duul than Love or Pink Floyd.
Opening cut “Eddie Makes the Scene” hurtles out of the blocks on a punishing drum fill, one guitar stretching out the long, reverberating tones, the other navigating nimbler, quicker patterns atop. That’s Richard Franecki building the drone, lead-guitarist John Helwig working melody and texture in, drummer Rusty pushing it all forward with his manic, everywhere at once beats. The sound is so dense and overwhelming, it’s hard to believe it’s just three guys . The tones evolve slowly but massively, blues-bent notes hanging for what seems like whole measures, feedback howls growing organically to monstrous size. There’s a break, mid-cut, then the whole piece reanimates, Rusty slashing the cymbals, acclerating, while Helwig cranks the wah wah pedal to full 1960s throttle. This is the first of three “Eddie” songs—and there’s no one named Eddie in the band, so it’s sort of a mysterious reference.
With “Gazing at the Dust” Franecki switches to sitar, intensifying the mystic, 1960s swirl of the trio’s sound. He changes instruments fairly frequently, moving from guitar to bass to harmonica and back to sitar again for “Eddie’s Freakout”, where his notes ping slantwise into a drum-shot miasma of feedback-y excellence.
The best song on the disc, though, is “Once More Near the Beginning”, which has a surf-toned, Western swagger to it, like Dick Dale on a serious acid binge. There’s a wonderful sense of forward movement to this song, of driving forever through empty desert landscapes. It’s the kind of song that would work beautifuly as closing credits music in a movie, further struggle, perhaps triumph implied in its sweeping, surging melody, but not exactly spelled out. Later, with “John’s Fuzz Theme”, the band again dips into surf-ish sounds, Helwig’s guitar solo ripping through a Ventures-esque riff like fire through a paper box.
With “The Truth Regarding Sunspots”, The Vocokesh is augmented by two additional players. Doug Pearson plays a Wiard synthesizer and Hal McGee joins on unspecified electronics. There’s maybe a touch more density to this track, a slightly intensified sense of reality slipping out of one’s grip, but the effects are fairly subtle. There may be a bit more feedback, more siren wails, but the core is still the interplay of drum and drone and guitar pyrotechnics.
The long, meditative “Vibe #8” takes the volume down a bit, pitting tambourine and three-note bass riff against a wind-like rush of distortion. There’s an undeniable groove—not a dancing groove, but the kind that pounds your body from the inside—a rock-steady certainty to the drums and bass that allows the guitar solo to spiral off into infinity. The title cut follows, abstract and frenetic, all fuzz and feedback roar with Helwig wheeling off in big guitar god riffs, Franecki holding down the bass. Then Eddie, whoever he is, makes an exit, chaotic and clattering and eastern-tinged, rock ‘til the end, but warped into strange and wonderful shapes.
If you play electric guitar—even air guitar—you’ll want to hear this record. Not many bands are working the endless possibilities of feedback, pedals, and untrammeled improvisation as hard as the Vocokesh… and even fewer can get it to pay off this well.