The Vocokesh: ...All This and Hieronymus Bosch

Milwaukee psych legends crank lysergic surf and abyss-howling feedback in loving tribute to Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee, Hieronymus Bosch, and a mysterious guy named Eddie.

The Vocokesh

...All This and Hieronymus Bosch

Label: Strange Attractors Audio House
US Release Date: 2007-02-13
UK Release Date: 2007-02-12

Now eight albums and 15 years since Richard Franecki split from much-beloved F/I, the guitar-squalling, psych-wielding Vocokesh toils on, finding the interstices where Hendrix-y guitar solos meet psychotropic drone. Cinematic in scope, rock in beat, and Vulcan in its mind-melting properties, the trio’s latest, ...All This and Hieronymous Bosch, comes wrapped in a Carl Jung quote about the nightmarish Dutch painter of the title. It says “The master of the monstrous... the discoverer of the unconscious.” Fair enough. Liner notes also tip the hat to Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee, both psych pioneers who died while the Vocokesh was recording; however, if you’re looking for Syd’s whimsy or Arthur’s pop-soul melodicism in this album, you’ll have a tough time. This is slow, heavy, guitar-centric psych, more in line with Amon Duul than Love or Pink Floyd.

Opening cut “Eddie Makes the Scene” hurtles out of the blocks on a punishing drum fill, one guitar stretching out the long, reverberating tones, the other navigating nimbler, quicker patterns atop. That’s Richard Franecki building the drone, lead-guitarist John Helwig working melody and texture in, drummer Rusty pushing it all forward with his manic, everywhere at once beats. The sound is so dense and overwhelming, it’s hard to believe it’s just three guys . The tones evolve slowly but massively, blues-bent notes hanging for what seems like whole measures, feedback howls growing organically to monstrous size. There’s a break, mid-cut, then the whole piece reanimates, Rusty slashing the cymbals, acclerating, while Helwig cranks the wah wah pedal to full 1960s throttle. This is the first of three “Eddie” songs -- and there’s no one named Eddie in the band, so it’s sort of a mysterious reference.

With “Gazing at the Dust” Franecki switches to sitar, intensifying the mystic, 1960s swirl of the trio’s sound. He changes instruments fairly frequently, moving from guitar to bass to harmonica and back to sitar again for “Eddie’s Freakout”, where his notes ping slantwise into a drum-shot miasma of feedback-y excellence.

The best song on the disc, though, is “Once More Near the Beginning”, which has a surf-toned, Western swagger to it, like Dick Dale on a serious acid binge. There’s a wonderful sense of forward movement to this song, of driving forever through empty desert landscapes. It’s the kind of song that would work beautifuly as closing credits music in a movie, further struggle, perhaps triumph implied in its sweeping, surging melody, but not exactly spelled out. Later, with “John’s Fuzz Theme”, the band again dips into surf-ish sounds, Helwig’s guitar solo ripping through a Ventures-esque riff like fire through a paper box.

With “The Truth Regarding Sunspots”, The Vocokesh is augmented by two additional players. Doug Pearson plays a Wiard synthesizer and Hal McGee joins on unspecified electronics. There’s maybe a touch more density to this track, a slightly intensified sense of reality slipping out of one’s grip, but the effects are fairly subtle. There may be a bit more feedback, more siren wails, but the core is still the interplay of drum and drone and guitar pyrotechnics.

The long, meditative “Vibe #8" takes the volume down a bit, pitting tambourine and three-note bass riff against a wind-like rush of distortion. There’s an undeniable groove -- not a dancing groove, but the kind that pounds your body from the inside -- a rock-steady certainty to the drums and bass that allows the guitar solo to spiral off into infinity. The title cut follows, abstract and frenetic, all fuzz and feedback roar with Helwig wheeling off in big guitar god riffs, Franecki holding down the bass. Then Eddie, whoever he is, makes an exit, chaotic and clattering and eastern-tinged, rock 'til the end, but warped into strange and wonderful shapes.

If you play electric guitar -- even air guitar -- you’ll want to hear this record. Not many bands are working the endless possibilities of feedback, pedals, and untrammeled improvisation as hard as the Vocokesh... and even fewer can get it to pay off this well.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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

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