[29 April 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
In its overall sound, Pyramid Vritra’s second LP Indra doesn’t stretch that far from his work as half of the duo the Jet Age of Tomorrow, who represent the trippy, dreamy slow-fog side of Odd Future. There’s still a touch of juvenilia in these songs of lust and drugs, but at the same time Hal Williams, aka Pyramid Vritra, seems mainly interested in creating an interesting atmosphere. It’s a science-fiction/California sunshine hybrid, made of sunbeams and their shadows.
Yet compared to say, the Jet Age of Tomorrow’s most recent album The Journey to the 5th Echelon, there is less overall murk in the sound and more of a sense of urgency even within the mystification. On Indra there’s a clarity befitting the sun-dappled cover. Musically the album bears the mark of ‘70s soul and funk in general, Stevie Wonder sometimes specifically, but filtered through the ‘90s G-Funk era and through the works of some of his Stone Throw labelmates (Madlib, perhaps especially). For that matter, there are moments not far off from various bohemian hip-hop artists of the past—Divine Styler, Shabazz Palaces, even PM Dawn – though the vocals here do sometimes seem more an afterthought than with any of those.
The album meanders enough, and is drug-addled enough, that it’s likely to be described as psychedelia, but I’m not sure that it is. Yes, within the songs there are stray organs and synths that seem to be generating their own cloud patterns, plus creeping (and creepy) rock guitars here and there. But there’s a streamlined vision here that seems unrelated to psychedelic or experimental music as a genre. It’s idiosyncratic hip-hop/soul music following its creator’s whims and mental states.
Pyramid Vritra himself vocally seems to be half-awake, uncertain if he’s talking, rapping or mumbling; stumbling through the tales he relates – tales that do often seem rooted in nighttime visions. On tracks like “Spyglass” and “Cruel”, he’s obsessing about someone, but his memories, dreams and real-life experiences are all mixed up. “I swear that I’m not crazy / I fuckin’ swear that you were here,” he declares during “Spyglass”.
Indra is at its best when that uncertainty is present in the music, when it’s stuck somewhere between the muddled and the clear. That is, especially in the strange, resonant instrumental moments that bridge the purposefully enigmatic, sometimes almost overdone word-clouds (“Tea and Lemonade”) and the quieter, fast-told stories (“Spool”). The balance there, between bright and dark, humble and insane, is very purposefully walked. When as a listener you’ve been spun into an obscure web, you know there are some uptempo, sunny synth notes about to be played to start the next track.
The 16 tracks on Indra collectively give the impression that this is a personal epic, an unburdening of pent-up emotions, stories and ideas – even if we’re not always taking it in straightforwardly, not always understanding what Pyramid Vritra is going for. That epic impression builds throughout the album, culminating in the eight-minute finale “Feel”, which breaks down into a sort of lesson, a putting-together of the building blocks beneath this unusual journey.