Plankton Wat: Spirits

Plankton Wat
Thrill Jockey

Plankton Wat’s second full length album Spirits is a strange concoction of sonic sensations that somehow tell of the Pacific Northwest (or really just Oregon), ranging from Cape Meares to some sort of fashion trend filtering through a vintage/antique clothing store in Portland. Fronting influences in psychedelic rock, folk, ghostly visitations and free jazz, this experimental album is a reincarnation of sound leaving its listeners praying for metamorphosis.

Plankton Wat is the alias of solo musician Dewey Mahood of Portland, OR. Mahood began recording music in his home basement in 2001 and has had a hand in countless other projects such as the Eternal Tapestry, Barn Owl, Edibles and Portland hardcore-punk band Bloodbiker. Since then his albums have been picked up by tape labels such as Stunned, Digitalis and Sloow. Released by DNT records in 2009, Dawn of the Golden Eternity was his first full length record under the name Plankton Wat. Now signed with Thrill Jockey, Plankton Wat returns with yet more of the same odes to the environment on Spirits.

Initially this record sounds like something you would pick up in a head shop or maybe even a disc you would find in that instrumental section near the greeting cards in a Target or Wal-Mart. But to leave Spirits there would perhaps be a little unfair…. This album, though dimly, speaks to an array of influences reaching from Don Cherry and Alice Coltraine to psychedelic rock bands such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience and San Francisco acid rock band Blue Cheer.

The album’s first track, “Evening Sky” starts off with soft guitar riffs that almost sound like a warm-up or a finger exercise, but soon the notes are drenched in vibrations like resonating water glasses. Honestly this song is so calming that it will likely make you doze off.

The album’s title track is teeming with electrifying twinges and ghostly moans. The guitar riffs are muscle spasm inducing, the beat and maracas are mind-numbing and seem heavy with sleep rather than light and lively. In short, this song plays like a psychotherapy session that some may mistake for a spiritual experience. Although it may be a strange listening experience, you can really hear the Jazz influence in this song, with patterns that feebly mimic Pharaoh Sanders and Don Cherry. The song is a mass of sound with tricks so hypnotizing. You may find yourself, mouth open, with drool running down your chin.

It has been said by many (Miranda Lambert, Cate Bosworth, Zooey Deschanel and others) that cotton is that cotton is “the fabric of our lives”, but for Mahood, that fabric is instead weaved together from the softest acoustic guitar strings. On the album’s fourth track “Fabric of Life”, Mahood plucks his strings as if he is intricately crafting a blanket out of them. This is the first song on the album that rests heavy in folk roots. Full of ringing strums and tugs both quick and measure, “Fabric of Life” is somewhat pleasant, somewhat like a childhood nap.

While so many songs on this album begin to sound the same, “Islands” begins with a lively drum machine rhythm that is unique to the album. However, with this rhythm mostly in the background of the song, the foreground instrumentation is more of the same electrocuting, noisy patterns. The guitar riffs on this album will manifest in your fingertips as if you’re touching static, eliciting that shocking feeling that moves quickly up your forearm and resonates with a strange tickle.

When one thinks of an orange cloud, a sunset or maybe even a Dreamsicle comes to mind. However, Plankton Wat’s song “Orange Clouds” is the utter opposite of a frothy summer. Rather, this song sends out chimes of depression and isolation; it conjures up an image of a spirit trapped in a tin can as he or she rolls around in the desert sand. It’s just complete desolation. Of all the songs on the album this one seems to be the most reminiscent of psychedelic rock in both its title and its sound.

The word “wat” means “school” and plankton are tiny organisms that drift in the ocean, so if that says anything about Davey Mahood’s solo project, Plankton Wat is drifting against the popular music tide. There is no doubt that Spirits is experimental and a little too relaxing. Do not operate a vehicle while listening to this album.

RATING 4 / 10
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