[12 June 2008]
“...all during the dance, movies were shown on two screens at the opposite end of the gymnasium. These movies were the only lights in the gym proper. They gave the appearance of different colored liquids swirling across the screen, followed by shots of men and women on occasion. Shots were the men and women’s nude torsos, on occasion. And persons twisted and gyrated in provocative and sensual fashion. The smell of marijuana was prevalent all over the entire building. Sexual misconduct was blatant.”
—Former President Ronald Reagan, from a speech featured in the Berkeley in the Sixties documentary
When an LP with Elvin Estela’s producer moniker, Nobody, is pulled from the crate, there is a good chance that hazy dorm rooms across the continent are about to get downright opaque with bowl exhaust. On Western Water Music Vol. II, Estela paired with vocalist Niki Randa to tell the story of a natural disaster that yields a nation of people living underwater. The summary sounds like an insufferable episode of the new Twilight Zone, while the content, a set of actually focused and colorful compositions, is anything but. Estela and Randa part gypsy bead strings on Vol. II, welcoming us into a living room decked out in incense and Doritos, so that stoned, paranoid guests embark on a jaunt strewn with psychedelia and vocals that sound as if they’d been recorded in a swimming pool.
Like Daedelus or Caribou, Estela’s got his head in what rolled out of the record stores some 40 years ago. He’s long been channeling ‘60s psyche-folk luminaries like Donovan and the Byrds, as well as era names known only to record convention loiterers, such as the acts attributed to eccentric producers/songwriters Gary Usher or Curt Boettcher. On Estela’s artful Plug Research debut LP, And Everything Else…, the West Coast beatmaker/experimentalist/remixer went so far as to re-arrange the boisterous “Prelude” from an album by late ‘60s popsters the Millennium, of which Boettcher was a member. Ever the 1968-aping noodler, Estela’s multiple contributions to The Free Design: The Now Sound Redeisgned (check his work with Mars Volta’s Ikey Owens there, as well as Madlib’s) are just as transparently hippie. Acid-washed outings on Western Water Music Vol. II follow Estela’s first volume, a 2003 album called Pacific Drift. When he decided he needed a vocalist for the subsequent chapter, Randa got a beat/production CD from him and he got to work in his Long Beach home studio.
On last year’s From L.A. With Love compilation, a sneak peek at Vol. II appeared in the form of “All the Shallow Deep.” It fares very well amid polished peers on the collection, and on the album, “All the Shallow Deep” is a flawless link between its connecting tracks. Randa’s soaring call, doubled and laden with reverb, flows languidly over a bed of backward drones and bubbling hand percussion. “Spectral Company”, however, sounds anachronistically contemporary, with a pristine trip hop springboard built of buzzing organs and choppy beats. Its layers of woodwinds and organ are almost stifling, but Randa keeps a sturdy balance, while Estela walks a tightrope between paisley and Portishead.
The bundle of live instrumentation on Western Water Music Vol. II looks less to Estela’s spaced hip-hop sound than it does to Tree Colored See, his 2006 country psyche collaboration with Chris Gunst (Beachwood Sparks, The Tyde—BS’s Dave Scher and The Tyde’s Ben Knight appear on Vol. II, incidentally) and Jen Cohen (Aislers Set)‘s Mystic Chords of Memory. Tree Colored See isn’t without its share of hip-hop breaks, but its live elements are far more prevalent than the sampled flourishes are on And Everything.
Tremolo effects and heavily delayed guitar dot flowery entries “Sea Roars Lead” and “Ignite” on Vol. II. The latter’s snares reverberate far off in the background, with Randa’s harmonies fitting the whole organic/electronic conglomeration like a comfortable poncho. “Sea Roars Lead” shuffles beneath a whirlwind of bright, twinkling clean-channel licks against those fed through a vintage fuzz box pedal, while Randa woozily adheres to the script: “Breathe deep and all around, you’ll find night like a firefly.” Sure, it looks all Marshall Applewhite-style on paper, but when she’s singing it, you’ll be swallowing the Kool-Aid and climbing into a napsack. “Up” rounds out Estela’s most powerful work to date, and it’s a fact: the free-love comedowns explored on Western Water Music Vol. II would have the frequently sainted Ronald Reagan loading his drawers. Torsos a-plenty, Mr. President.