Eternal Tapestry: Wild Strawberries

Wild Strawberries is Earth-minded space rock of its own kind, grounded in both American and European strains of psychedlia.
Eternal Tapestry
Wild Strawberries
Thrill Jockey

There is something incongruent about the notion of a “pure” form of psychedelic rock. Psychedelia was what happened when you spiked rock ‘n’ roll’s punchbowl. It was impurity of the highest order (pun very much intended). Ultimately, human nature would take charge and rules among the counterculture would be drawn up, just as factions of punk in the following generation would move from similarly chaos-oriented origins into regimented protocol for dress and conduct. In the case of both movements, their “purest” form came in the early stages, where they supposedly rejected ideological constraints such as purity.

Eternal Tapestry inspire descriptions like “pure” when it comes to their approach to the genre because they evoke so many qualities of those first impurists. Wild Strawberries is Earth-minded space rock of its own kind, but the spirit is faithful to the legacy of its paisley-clad forefathers. The droning organ and trance-like cymbal tapping in the fifteen-minute title track sound like they were lifted straight out of an early Doors jam session, while the fuzzed-out guitar endlessly unfurls in every direction. “Enchanter’s Nightshade” immediately follows in much the same fashion, cycling through effects and tones, with warm spirals of saxophone and keyboard blending into the background. The two tracks combined are an appropriate soundtrack to spending a half hour gazing up at the stars, the ceiling, the backs of your eyelids…whatever is most compelling in the moment, really.

The Portland band isn’t necessarily coy about chemical inspiration, but of the eight plants that give the songs on Wild Strawberries their names, it feels almost conspicuous that there isn’t a fungus among them. The flora highlighted on the double album all grow around Oregon’s Mt. Hood, which is also home to morels, wild chanterelles, and, like many mossy corners of the Pacific Northwest, surely some of the psilocybin variety as well. Those foothills, roughly an hour’s drive east of Portland, but more remote feeling than physical distance indicates, are where Eternal Tapestry went to record the album. There, the group spent a week secluded in a cabin outside of a small town that, it is impossible to ignore, shares its name with a popular brand of rolling papers: Zigzag.

There are a few great tales behind the making of Wild Strawberries getting written up around its release (see also the one about recording the tracks onto old bootleg Phish cassettes after drummer Jed Bindeman came into a haul of hundreds of them via Craigslist), and the story of their week in the forest feels practically traceable in the record’s progression. Though there is no indication whether the track list reflects any kind of chronological order, nowhere does the band sound more enthused and cohesive than in the beginning. The extended lengths of “Wild Strawberries” and “Enchanted Nightshade” are sustainable because all four members are synced up with one another. It would make sense: the car is unpacked, the fridge is stocked, the amps and mics are all set up — time to start jamming out.

After the flittering interlude “Woodland Anemone”, “Maidenhair Spleenwort” marks a change in direction for an album that ecstatically eschews direction. The nods to Popol Vuh and the like on “Lace Fern” and “Pale-Green Sedge” find Eternal Tapestry meandering away from ‘60s American psych rock and toward its ambient ‘70s European counterpart. It is as if the self-imposed geographical isolation is starting to take hold, the settling-in has turned unsettled: Nick Bindeman is unable to pry himself away from his guitar, but his brother leaves the drum kit unmanned to go off on long hikes among the trees.

Only with the final sprawling highlight, “White Adders Tongue”, do the Bindemans, along with bassist Krag Linkins and Warren Lee and Cat Hoch, have the end in sight and fully coalesce once more. In interviews, Eternal Tapestry has addressed a certain liberating lack of focus that came with the process of making this album. Overall, it is to the benefit of Wild Strawberries that the band resisted adhering to typical inclinations toward structure. Too many rules might have turned the positive vibrations into a bad trip.

RATING 7 / 10