When they released Occult Architecture, Vol. 1 in February 2017, guitar-warlock Ripley Johnson and keyboardist, Sanae Yamada explained that the album represented the darker, sensual side of human nature, the yin. It’s companion, the just-released Occult Architecture, Vol. 2 is intended as the yang, the lighter, active side, an awakening. As Johnson explained, “In production we referred to Vol. 1 as the fuzz dungeon, and Vol. 2 as the crystal palace”.
In his PopMatters review of the first half of this pairing, Jordan Penney posited that listeners with a deep commitment to the neo-psychedelic genre would enjoy the trip while more general listeners might experience the album “as skillful and accomplished psychedelia with occasional lapses into listlessness”. The same holds true for Occult Architecture, Vol. 2, which is a bit tighter than the first volume while still emphasizing elements of electronica mixed with the band’s Krautrock-meets-psychedelia roots.
“New Dawn” opens with light piano and electronic chirps before a bass-heavy pulse, and buzzing guitar drone builds the song’s primary texture. The heavy drone evokes Painful-era Yo La Tengo. Continuing down the sonic rabbit hole of drone, the instrumental “Mirror’s Edge” features a slowed-down Velvet Underground “rock ‘n’ roll” groove, demonstrating how that band, while themselves resisting the psychedelic impulses of their time, can be effectively put to that purpose.
Johnson’s vocals throughout the album understated but not quite whispery. For instance, in “Sevens”, his voice is mixed as an equal element to the song’s other sonic components. When Yamada’s support vocals come in to harmonize on what passes as a chorus, it is more in the service of sound color than lyrical emphasis. This song manages to be both active and passive simultaneously, emphasizing the yin and yang framework of which the album is a part. Giving one’s self over to the song creates the contradictory feeling of acceleration that pushes a rider deeper into the seat: the vehicle is moving forward aggressively while the body is forced backward as a counterweight. “Lost in Light” offers a similar contradiction, a sort of grounded uplift, its synthesizer swirls and interwoven guitar melodies evoking openness and flight while a pulsing bass and distant, echoing drum rolls resemble a gravitational force.
Electronica borrows heavily upon minimalism’s tropes, in particular, sonic loops that repeat or change only gradually, static patterns as both the canvas and the painting. It makes for a natural link to psychedelia, but there are some adjustments required of the listener. Often, the most effective psychedelic songs clock in around four or five minutes but seem to go on for much longer; extending songs to the seven- to ten-minute range via electronic loops can be less immediately effective. For instance, the ten-minute, “Crystal World”, is a not unpleasant but somewhat monotonous album-closer that points to the limitations of electronica-based psychedelia. Delicate guitar noodling over looped keyboards and percussion is never going to blow anyone’s mind, but the collective sounds here function as an effective chill. This is the yang side of the band’s current experiment, after all, and it’s suitably trippy if overlong.
Like the first, Vol. 2 was mixed in Portland by the band’s longtime collaborator Jonas Verwijnen. Released separately so that each album could be appreciated on its own merits, the best listening experience is, nonetheless, queuing them up in order and letting the sonic waves carry you to wherever. Occult Architecture, Vol. 2 is effective coming down from its predecessor, moving its listeners into the light.