Monday, June 30, 2008
Pocahaunted / Robedoor - Hunted Gathering (Digitalis 2XCD)
This past Thursday I headed up north to Albany, that burgeoning mecca of sonic delights, for a killer line-up at a small art gallery on Lark St. Pocahaunted and Robedoor have been making the rounds on the east coast as of late, and for this appearance they had gotten two guests, Century Plants and Northampton Wools. Now I've waxed long on Century Plants a few times here, but this set was the best I'd seen from them--Ray switched from his usual guitar to analog synth, and the result was a more driving, rhythmic sound. As usual, Eric's axe slayed, and Ray's vocals were a near-constant presence without ever becoming too much. The video projections behind them, featuring much flora of course, was also excellent. The best I've seen them. As for Northampton Wools, which is Thurston Moore (you know, Sonic Youth...) and Bill Nace (X.0.4, Vampire Belt, Open Mouth Records, etc.), their shredded beyond repair guitar duet was wild as hell. The way these two could go from pointillist scraping to sludge to drone was really something to behold. Picked up a Thurston Moore LP on Lost Treasures of the Underworld that I'm sure will make an appearance here soon enough, so keep your eyes peeled for that. It was weird actually.. much of the crowd was clearly there for Thurston, and afterwards people were taking pictures with him and trying to chat him up. I felt bad for him ,he clearly wanted nothing to do with it... hell, the guy had just done the least poppy set of the night.
As for Robedoor and Pocahaunted, they both arrived a bit late and pretty much played as they walked into the door, so all things considered their sets were pretty good. Robedoor especially did it right--their thick doom-drone is heavy stuff, my kind of sounds. I've never been all that in to Pocahaunted--a little too folky, precious for me maybe--but their set was pretty good. Robedoor sat in for a bit of it which added an industrial pace to the whole thing which I was into but overall, I don't know, maybe it's just me. I have to be in the right mood for it I guess. Plus, if you're gonna name your band Pocahaunted, which in theory I really like, stay away from the Native American vocal chanting... it just seems a little obvious, I don't know.
That said, the show was really great, and I of course picked up some merch at the end including a Robedoor LP and this Pocahaunted/Robedoor split which I'd seen around a bit. When I got home and threw it on, I realized that their were a few great ideas going on here. First, the two discs both have tracks from both bands rather than a single disc being given to each. Considering that one member of each band is married and that the two share each others' space (the husband and wife team also co-run the great Not Not Fun label) this works surprisingly well despite the despairing black plague of Robedoor and the relatively loose, airy neo-psych drone of Pocahaunted. The two work surprisingly well back to back, and the deeper connections between the two become apparent: both are all about restraint, repetition, and creating big things out of little ones, so though the general feel may change from song to song, it does so slowly enough as to maintain a level of coherence within the album as a whole. The other wise choice, and this I'm sure was an obvious one, is that the last track on the album features both bands in collaboration, a team-up that splits the difference and goes for broke. I'll get to that later.
The first disc opens with Robedoor's "Plague of Settlers," a guitar and electronic lurch full of whispered screams and hellish smudges of black. This is the dark and slow soundtrack to some satanist worship (on a war ship, no doubt). The high ringing lunges over that freakishly low-end mass is just endlessly brutal, and the vocal cries are patient and well restricted enough to make them sound just as inhuman as this kind of stuff calls for. Some opener. "Roman Nose" changes the pace a bit, not the least because it's a Pocahaunted track, but somehow it fits right in. I like this better than any of the other stuff I've heard by them; it's less overtly tribal and has a broader sonic palette. Starting out with a guitar finger pick, a deep industrial groove eventually enters, driving it along into the echoey cavern where the phoenix roosts. Starts to get pretty fuzzed out actually, and when the vocals come in they sound more like some angelic shaman inhaling smoking roots and reciting prophecies. Despite all that talk, the sound has little to do with the Native American chants. It's too weird, too grinding and confused. Instead it just goes and goes, shaping itself at its own patient pace.
"Crow Scout" is another Pocahaunted track, and again the sound is too rich and intricate to be some cheesy rehash of stereotyped Native American war cries. The two discs are recorded and mixed by Bobb Bruno, and you can tell--each sound is distinct and full, its own character. There's a lot to get lost in here before "Spectral Outpost," Robedoor's closer to the disc, swiftly carries back down into the trenches--which is where "Crow Scout" was headed anyway I suppose--for a lush slow paced shifting of waves and waves of weight. Beautiful closer that both fittingly closes the hour-long disc and gets you psyched for the next one.
Disc two is a bit shorter at about 45 minutes, but what it lacks in time it makes up for in really pushing the envelope for both bands. The opening cut is an unheard of four and a half minute one from Robedoor, "Ancestress Moon." This one is so motionless and icy that it might as well be the sound of an orchestra of bass frequencies and guitar strings tuning up and down. Undulating forward, the piece takes only a tangential form, instead weaving in and out of itself, the guitar the head and the bass frequencies the tail. Lovely. "Warmest Knives" is Pocahaunted's follow-up, and this one follows on a similar course, taking its time to move as it may. Building from a simple two guitar chord vamp, the piece goes deeper and deeper into itself, vocals entering and bouncing off echoing guitar chords before timpani like drums build themselves up like some spaced-out tribal orchestra. If that analogy isn't enough, strings even make their way in, weaving around beautifully to create a wall of sound fit for a huge, empty auditorium filled with trees and rain. Robedoor's "Razed Terrain" follows, and it's their harshest on the disc, thudding along to a wall of black smoke behind them. The vocals sound especially tortured here before wild drums enter in and take the shuttle into lift-off mode, only you're in the engine. A heavy one, dense and chaotic.
The last track on the album is "Hunted Gathering," and this time it's, as mentioned before, a collaboration between the two groups. This track seamlessly melds both band's aesthetics, incorporating the grim sonic torture of Robedoor and the airier, albeit in this case darker, edge of Pocahaunted. Slowly and steadily the thing builds steam, thudding along with the distinctive female vocalizing of Pocahaunted over top the darker and less conspicuous ones from Robedoor's side. A real meeting of the mind's though, it's tough to say who's catering to who on this epic drone sorcery. Heavy and hot, it's a claustrophobic hall of earth and soil somewhere way, way down. Beautiful and mysterious stuff. Special mention too should be made of Yellow Swans' Pete Swanson, who mastered the whole thing, as well as Changeling's Roy Tatum who has a guest appearance somewhere in there along with someone named Laena. Whatever each does, it's unobtrusive nature reveals its success. Everything is in place on this one.