Red Temple Spirits: Red Temple Spirits

Akin to chant or ritual, this hypnotic post-punk conjures a sameness at times that fails to belie its variety and subtlety. Red Temple Spirits summons up voices as an electronic shaman.

Red Temple Spirits

Red Temple Spirits

Label: Independent Project
US Release Date: 2013-06-11
UK Release Date: 2013-06-10

With lavish packaging thanks to a two-ton letterpress--an iconic feature of elegant releases by pioneering Independent Project Records--this compilation from a Los Angeles underground band of the late 1980s begins IPR's re-launch of its eclectic label. Bruce Licher (Savage Republic, Scenic) created stunning record covers for his label, signing Camper Van Beethoven for its first three albums. Licher also designed my wedding invitations; his hand-fed vintage press, then at the stolid old Nate Starkman building downtown, represented an artistic presence a quarter-century ahead of loft revivals in that industrial district.

Industry churned around IPR's first band, Licher's post-punk Savage Republic. Yet label mates, such as Red Temple Spirits, weaved Roky Erickson and Syd Barrett with The Cure and early goth to create a tribal post-psychedelic ambiance that meshed well with the direction Licher and his colleagues took as the grittier experimentation of their own bands merged with a more expansive, or arid, setting. This led to IPR (today in Bishop, California, near the other end of the desert) relocating to the New Age mecca of Sedona, Arizona. There, half of RTS also moved, logically.

First, however, chanting William Faircloth (a 1960s singer who had emigrated from England), fronted Dino Paredes (bass), Thomas Pierek (drums), and Dallas Taylor (guitar). These musicians had stints in post-punk and goth-experimental local bands. Together they recorded two LPs (separately included in this re-issue with glassine wrappers) in cardboard printed covers evoking bold red and sandstone hues of Tibetan iconography. Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon, from 1988, rests on Pierek's spare percussion. Taylor's guitar recalls Robert Smith's mid-1980s Cure patterns, as Paredes' bass provides an understated foundation. Over this usually unhurried but sporadically restless backing, Faircloth declaims his lyrics of spiritual solace and social unease.

The songs flow well. There may not be much distinction in mood, but as with albums meant to be heard as a whole, the atmosphere wafts along for the first four tracks of the debut. "Dreamings Ending" asserts itself more forcefully, akin to a more up-tempo track from The Cure's Pornography. Rather than imitating that band, RTS relies on Faircloth's preference for simpler declamation than Smith's wails and whoops. This panoramic tone suits the swirl or, more often, the spareness.

RTS favors a mid-tempo pace, allowing it to swoop over a flat terrain of images and sensations. It can roil, as on "Moonlight", or saunter, as on "Where Merlin Played" or "Exorcism/Waiting for the Sun". Fans of Julian Cope's similar explorations of pagan and occluded culture may like these choices, too. Yet, RTS does not employ keyboards, and sticking to the basic guitar-bass-drums lineup (Faircloth is credited for percussion), keeps the band grounded instead of pursuing the space-rock of its forebears.

Still, Pink Floyd's "The Nile Song" serves as a well-chosen and faithful cover, demonstrating RTS can assert itself, and Fairchild can project himself above his previous, usually softer delivery. This continues with "Lost in Dreaming" and "Light of Christ/This Hollow Ground". Listeners of stoner rock such as Om might find congenial company on these tracks, which roam the same stark landscape.

At over an hour, Dancing feels as epic as albums by the aforementioned Om. A bonus track, the first version of the colonialist-immigrant conflict related as "New Land" (which had been issued as a benefit for Tibet House) keeps the energy upbeat for the second half of this well-sequenced album. Fairchild doesn't command the mike, and this may be the album's one shortcoming. Unlike Robert Smith, Roky Erickson, or Roger Waters, Faircloth remains a more understated presence.

1989's If Tomorrow I Were Leaving for Lhasa, I Wouldn't Stay a Minute More may not reflect that city's politically fraught status under communist rule, but it does reflect the dissatisfaction with one's existence at the heart of the Buddhist teachings. Faircloth's songs continue to explore restlessness. The slightly brighter production moves along the album (nearly as long as the first, although supplemented now by two bonus tracks, one another take on "New Land") but the shinier gloss, and busier instrumentation, for all its accessibility, keeps the first album's resolute stance of yearning.

Again, the first half of a RTS album sustains a mood. "A Black Rain" opens with more tension, which is needed. Taylor's guitar finally comes alive in "Meltdown" and "Confusion"; it's good to have Faircloth back a peppier melody that's Middle-Eastern tinged (as are some Camper Van Beethoven and Savage Republic material, notably). After the slow burn of "Rainbow's End", another appropriate Pink Floyd cover appears in "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun". Roky Erickson's 13th Floor Elevators, an apparent influence on RTS (if a muted one), had a spirited song in "Rollercoaster". Dispensing with the electric jug oddness of the original, the band's perkier take allows the post-punk roots of its instrumentalists to show, creating a sharper version that must have sounded great live. For once, RTS strips off the burnished hue of its tunes to promote more energy.

Bonus track "Exodus from Lhasa" uses effects to create more distance; "New Land" here shimmies in punkier fashion, again a nice surprise. Four 1987 "live demo" recordings are included in early pressings. "Light of Christ" and "Hallowed Ground" either by intent or chance find the vocals phased or lapsed for intriguing alternatives.

Akin to chant or ritual, this hypnotic post-punk conjures a sameness at times that fails to belie its variety and subtlety. Edgy and jittery, RTS' sound connects to one's inner state, subject to alteration and mood swings. Red Temple Spirits summons up voices as an electronic shaman.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.