[18 July 2011]
Eternal Tapestry and Sun Araw, two separate yet aesthetically contiguous groups committed to exploring the depths of reverb ensconced psychedelic drone, have joined forces to bring you Night Gallery, a minimally edited live performance given for a radio session last year in Austin during SXSW. The beauty of this album is its unhurried and unassuming dedication to performance. Both of these bands translate well from record to venue, as they rely on room sound and interweaving dynamics as opposed to strict song structure. Although the album itself is heavily indebted to its Krautrock and psychedelic influences, it refreshingly scuttles innovation for the incomparable excitement of live sound—so often overlooked in the hype-dominated scene of instant internet releases.
Eternal Tapestry dominates the lineup with its usual members (Dewey Mahood and Nick Bindeman playing guitar, Jed Bindeman on drums, Ryan Carlile providing tenor sax, Yoni Kifle on the bass), though Sun Araw’s mastermind, Cameron Stallones, brings a welcome addition of keys and flute to the dual guitar attack the Portland, Oregon group usually administers. To distinguish the bands’ respective sounds, you might say that Eternal Tapestry is linear, driving forward in the Krautrock tradition of autobahn or interstellar exploration. Sun Araw, on the other hand, circles around, in bare repetition, spinning out a swirling dub mess. And if you drew a Venn diagram of these two bands, they would intersect in the region of loose washed out reverb sets, suitable territory in which to hold a good old fashioned psych jam session.
The sequencing on this album sets out a suite of Roman numeral numbered tracks, though it really plays as one long exploration, with the only major distinction coming at the flipside of the album. What distinguishes this jam session from, say, a typical Fillmore performance from any San Francisco band in the ‘60s is that these bands truck in repetition, not virtuosity. That is to say, the music itself is more ‘70s-dominated, the edgier German response to the sunny hippy days, recalling Neu!’s aggro four on the floor and Amon Düül’s self-propelling exploration of frills and marginal comments. As the album title implies, this sound has a darkness to it, gripping tightly to that fine line between good and bad trip.
As you might expect with a live set, the album strikes a slow start of squealing synths, mean sounding guitar squawks, the kind of sounds that would accompany well the beginning of a long light show. The first three night galleries slowly build a wall of indistinguishable noise and squall, a psychedelic painting with a wide and flat brush. When the rhythm steadies out, the guitar sets forth a pattern of alternating notes and soon the organ and guitar build into a crack-free wall of vintage distortion. The second track sets forth a nice and dirty phased guitar beat bottomed by a busy loud bass. Though the song is led by guitar, the frills don’t hover over the mix, but go into creating the thickest possible mess of boiling movement.
As the second tracks bleeds into the third, you realize that the songs are ultimately indistinguishable. Interlocking references create similar sonic spaces, so the ground covered may be less than you suppose. Still this paradoxical feeling of running a straight line in a circle fits the two groups respective aesthetics that blend busy playing with simple repetition. The final effect is a climactic mess of wet and dirty electric instruments. That said, the third track distinguishes itself with a puncturing high melody; the instruments begin to separate more, like clouds breaking. The guitar wanders closer to the surface, trying out notes. We’ve reached the plateau of the album and the band wants to take a look around. This breathing room lasts for the setup of the last and longest track, which is prettier and slower. But the energy remains evident in the strangely quiet drum fills.
Bands like Eternal Tapestry and Sun Araw can afford to be prolific in their release schedule as they rely on the subtle combination of coincidence and planning that makes improvisation good; their fans know this, and can usually find peaks with every performance. And each band has had a very good year, with solid releases in their own right. This combo might not push them further stylistically, but neither does it make them step backwards. They’re primed and ready, doing it all over the place.
Night Gallery isn’t the essential live album, but it’s still exciting. I would have liked to hear more of the Sun Araw stuttering style of songwriting on this set, since this fresher sound contains promises of exciting territory. Eternal Tapestry is consistent and growing, but certainly backdated in a way that may end up being more limiting. Still, Night Gallery honors nicely the propulsive sound so cherished by Krautrock dedicatees, who dominate the noise scene now: the sound of motoring down the freeway, knowing you’ve crossed that limit point, even though missed the actual crossing. The ecstasy of late night purple-sky, groggy music is to be self-contained and self-aware, cosmically, at this point, one step past the limit and continuing on.