Upsilon Acrux: Radian Futura

Richard Elliott

If musicians are the true athletes of memory, then Upsilon Acrux are true heptathletes. Radian Futura is a fine workout for the ears and brain.

Upsilon Acrux

Radian Futura

Label: Cunieform
US Release Date: 2009-05-19
UK Release Date: 2009-05-04

If doom metal is too slow for headbanging, the music of Upsilon Acrux, which uses notable doomy powerchords on occasion, is just too unpredictable. Within ten seconds of Radian Futura beginning, listeners are thrown into the maelstrom of changes that is the band's calling card. Upsilon's sixth album is another serious assault on the senses, with a paradoxical mix of intricacy and immediacy that alternately encourages scratching and nodding of the head in place of outright banging. This is heavy, intense and often beautiful instrumental music. Leader-guitarist Paul Lai has put together a five-piece band for this project, comprising two guitars, keyboards, drums and bass. Although recorded in live takes, the album has been subject to subsequent mixing and overdubbing, meaning that already complex pieces are given extra layers of detail to dazzle and confuse. The result is high-speed palimpsest rock delivered by serious devotees of free jazz, wild prog, hardcore and post-rock.

Opening track "In-a-Gadda-Devito" dispenses with a handful of musical ideas within the first half minute, leaving us to join the pieces or at least hope that the band will do so for us. Change, as ever, is the keynote on this rollercoaster ride. No developing riff is left to solidify into something like a landmark, no becalmed moment allowed to linger. It is left up to listeners whether they attempt to follow the band through the intricate labyrinth of their changes or just let themselves be swept along by the tireless inventiveness and sheer power of the music being produced. We have to trust that, wherever the band takes us, we will stay on the rails, complete the circuit. And, of course, this is a recording. We can return to it, become familiar with its twists and turns, and eventually learn to map its twisted terrain.

Where to begin this process of familiarization? The short tracks provide the most convenient coordinates. "Landscape With Gun and Chandelier" kicks off its three and a half minutes by striking an elegiac note. In true Upsilon style, the gear swiftly changes to a driving rhythm, itself soon sped up, before the track runs aground and seems to breathe its last. A brief snippet of guitar noodling ushers in a steady rock beat and what might be, for another band, a great intro to a song. The tune develops into a piece of process music driven by Chris Mezler's drums before the ghost of Ornette Coleman arrives to send the whole group into a beautifully coordinated jazz conclusion. A similar sketch could be drawn of "Keepin Rice Evil" (2:38) with its shreds of electric guitar beauty or the blissfully gentle album closer "The Infinitesimal Fractions of Ping & Pong" (1:17).

The centerpiece of the album, however, exists at the other end of the time scale. At over 28 minutes, the amusingly titled "Transparent Seas (Radio Edit)" is by far the longest piece the band has released. Although it starts off at the usual manic pace, the track soon develops into a series of discretely connected movements, some performed as conversations between individual instruments, others as propulsive collective attacks. Guitarist Paul Lai claims it is the best thing the band has recorded, revealing that the piece took him six months to write. The driving theme is dialogue and the broken nature of the sentences we use when speaking. If speech never tends toward perfect resolution, why should music?

"If our other songs are short stories", Lai has said of "Transparent Seas", "this was like writing A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu". And while it may have taken Proust considerably longer than six months to write his masterpiece, the comment shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, for two reasons. Firstly, it highlights the fact that Upsilon Acrux's music is composed and not improvised, meaning that each track is the size and shape it is due to a preconceived set of ideas. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it equates the band's music with the two types of memory crucial to Proust's work: the involuntary memory brought about by the most random of circumstances and the work of memory involved in the construction of a piece of art.

If, as Paul Ricoeur suggested, musicians are the true athletes of memory, then a band like Upsilon Acrux are true heptathletes. They keep their listeners fit too. Radian Futura is a fine workout for the ears and brain. Headbanging is not recommended, however.






'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.