Savath & Savalas: Golden Pollen

[27 June 2007]

By John Bergstrom

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Aromatherapy

Since Golden Pollen is about 89% rooted in atmosphere and texture and about 11% rooted in melody, it seems appropriate to describe it in terms of immediate, one-word impressions. Delicate. Beautiful. Pastoral. Latin. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, listening to this album is like stepping into a huge, green, airy garden, surrounded by vines and butterflies, a gentle breeze lapping at your skin. Few albums make such specific, evocative first impressions, but Golden Pollen does. It couldn’t be better-titled.

Like a lot of people who deal in modern electronica, Guillermo Scott Herren has explored a variety of sounds and textures under a variety of pseudonyms. He’s probably best known for the glitchy hip-hop work he does under the name Prefuse 73. Over the past seven years, the Georgia-born, Barcelona-based Herren has used Savath & Savalas as an outlet for more organic, folk-influenced music. But Golden Pollen may be his most personal album yet, not least because he sings, in Spanish, on nearly every track instead of relying on guest vocalists and instrumentals. His soft, smooth voice is multitracked into layers of harmonies and dual-octave singing that often sounds more like chanting. It’s a bold move for Herren and the effect is entrancing, simultaneously pulling you in and lulling you. It gives the album a uniformity that, combined with the relative lack of melody, threatens to become a liability but never does. That’s because the songs on Golden Pollen are meticulously constructed.

Most of the songs fade into and out of one another in orchestral swells and ambient sound effects that connect with Herren’s electronic side, with gentle Latin percussion eventually laying a foundation. And things usually don’t get any faster or heavier than that. “Estrella de Dos Caras” features a drumkit and Swedish/Argentine folk singer and Zero 7 collaborator Jose Gonzales on the album’s sole guest lead vocal. It’s as close to a pop tune as Golden Pollen gets, but it continues the overall atmosphere rather than breaks away from it. As on past Savath & Savalas efforts, Chicago “post-rock” mainstay John McEntire co-produces. The influences of McEntire bands like Tortoise and The Sea and Cake can be heard in the lilting, minor chords and ever-so-dissonant undertone of tracks like “Paisaje” and “Mi Hijo”, which was written for Herren’s son. McEntire also helps lend the album its clear, careful, sealed-off sound—the sonic netherworld in which Golden Pollen exists.

Much of the album will waft through your head and then leave you, leaving deep impressions of atmosphere and feel but relatively few memories of individual songs. Still, Golden Pollen does have some “standout” tracks, and they’re mostly those in which melody and structure play a larger part. Take the slowly descending chords, rolling piano, and gently strummed acoustic guitar of “Apnea Obstructiva” or the pure Latin folk of the too-brief “Olhos”. In a rare occurrence for an album these days, Golden Pollen builds in strength and emotion from beginning to end. In a stunning suite, the lighter-than-air, mesmerizing acoustic guitars of “Vidas Animadas” lead right into the almost-jazzy “Tormenta de la Flor”. A cello gives way to a subtly psychedelic guitar figure, which collapses into a pool of orchestral ambience, from which emerge the gentle guitar and earnest vocal melody of “Ya Verdad”. The entire album comes to a climax in the major-key, transcendent chorus. Herren emotes wordlessly as if a huge hardship has been overcome, a great weight lifted. You can almost see him taking flight out of the garden.

If you listen to Golden Pollen on headphones or in a quiet room, you’ll likely drift to sleep—and that’s not a problem at all. Because, before that happens, you’ll appreciate that Herren has created an album that manages to be both uniquely experimental and deeply personal, insular yet wide-open—one that derives great strength from what it doesn’t try to do. And you’ll make sure that, one way or another, you don’t miss a note.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/savath-savalas-golden-pollen/