Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Vodka Soap - Shee-Ro Gateway Temples (Pacific City Studios CS)

As I said before, Skaters have been taking up a good chunk of my time lately, and this is another one that's been blowing me away lately. Vodka Soap is yet another solo project of Spencer Clark's, and tends to represent the more spacey, oceanic side of his sound, though on this release at least it represents fairly little difference in approach from his Monopoly Child projects. That said, other albums under the name (such as Un Chand Pyramidelier or Oceansion Island) do represent a spacier, airier approach, and I guess in some ways this one does too, only in this case without sacrificing any of the humid jungle trance of the Monopoly Child material.

The first side opens with some of the best stuff I've heard from Spencer. Beginning with the sound of some dripping holy water deep inside an underground Mexican cavern, the piece slowly builds itself up by adding parts and then letting them intermingle. When the off bat battering rhythm comes in it is off-putting at first, but quickly becomes another part of the mix as it plays over and over, reconfiguring the whole thing. When the spaced out synth tones--as blue and cove-like as they come--drift in they too don't seem to fit, at least rhythmically, until they've been played so many times that it all begins to work. There is an elusive, ethereal quality here that isn't found in most Star Searchers' material I guess, as a lot of the space is kept empty, making it about the spaces between each of the sounds as much as about the richness of the sounds themselves.

Of course Spencer always keeps you on your toes, turning on a dime to drop everything he's built to in preference for some tinkling chimes and monotone vocal hums. The sound of pressing play on the tape deck is, as always, kept in, the only preparation for the oncoming changes as bubbling rhythms emerge among the Moroccan street fair scene. Each time something is added, the territory changes completely, dragging you from Baghdad deserts to the Congo with the addition of only very minute rhythmic details before stripping it all back down to take you out to a Thai sea for some night fishing under the stars, all without ever slipping into the ethno-appropriation realm that's a bit overused these days if you ask me.

Side two is a bit darker than the first side, with wobbling lines bellowing below sustained tape chords. Everything's teetering over itself here before the rhythm, so reverb drenched so as to almost become lost as a series of bass notes, enters to confuse the mix. The blissed out bird calls and buoy dongs of the next bit, mixed with a single flute flourish, keeps this one in more uncomfortable territory throughout.

Despite the similar methodology used on each of these tracks, Spencer has a knack for tone choice and the feelings emitted by varying rhythms that keeps the whole thing moving in absolutely beautiful, unpredictable ways. When this one's rhythm comes in, it's back to head bobbing sand coverage, and that's a pretty swell place to be in Skaters land. A favorite from Spencer's discography.

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