Friday, January 30, 2009

Astral Social Club - Octuplex (VHF Records CD-R)

Given Neil Campbell's musical track record, it may be surprising to hear him state that, "I don't take psychedelic drugs." With a penchant for experimentation, Campbell's hallucinogenically inclined pallet has been an important presence on the British side of the experimental pond for years now. Having left the rock-drone pursuits of Vibracathedral Orchestra in favor of his own unit, Campbell continues to explore levels of electronic catharsis on this album, which moves from techno-inspired ravers to drifting expanses of electrified psychedelia.

Fittingly comprised of eight tracks, Octuplex represents yet another example of Campbell's resilient musical talents. The album opens with the techno beat of "Caustic Roe," whose laser synth sounds open the disc to a club-like environment before turning the track toward a dizzying array of psyched out squelches and synthesized mayhem. "Mugik Churn" features John Clyde-Evans contributing beats as Campbell continues his restless smattering of sounds atop. Immense waves coalesce under skittering rhythms that bounce so thoroughly through the sonic space that they create a dense and insular environment of crazed kinetics. The result is a kind of maniacal pop music that combines sugar-coated glamour from throughout the globe until no individual style is decipherable.

The clicking rhythms of "Aggro Vault," also supplied by Evans, are all that Campbell requires in throwing off the song's near video game-worthy backing melody. Not unlike Muslimgauze, Campbell has a knack for finding a groove and sticking with it, changing what is essentially looped material just enough so as to maintain momentum. It is this tension between minimal tactical change and maximal sonic detail that keep these tracks afloat. As beams of sound slide their way over near breakbeat structures, the sheer overabundance of rhythmic and tonal resources calls for a patience on the part of the performer in order to maintain a sense of continuity. With little melodic material present, Campbell is moves the piece in more subtle (and thus less motivically significant) ways. Rather than slipping into all too conventional tactics of dance music, Campbell utilizes those same techniques with a different goal in mind. On "Pilgrim Sunburst" gentle new age melodies slide atop rising washes of warm drones and jet-fueled crescendos while Campbell's son Magnus speaks in the background. The result is a zoned out space that has little to do with "getting down;" and much to do with getting there, wherever that may be.

"Sweet Spraint," featuring both Richard Youngs and, if you can believe it, Pogues member Spider Stacy on reeds, murmurs about beneath a thick two-chord progression that grows in momentum until it has expanded itself into washes of warm white light. "Radial Hermaphordite", also featuring Stacy, mellows the epic conclusion of the previous track with a near raga-style workout, complete with drifting folk guitar behind meandering pipe moves. Its thick spectral backing gives it a feel unlike most pursuits of the aesthetic as it maintains an electronically overloaded sound that avoids the pitfalls of less fearless delvings into that arena.

The loose "Muscle Abductor" slips apart as it splays its buried melodies about before the closing "Hot Toxer" brings the beats back to the fore as it moves toward stadium scale euphoria. It is a fitting close to an album whose perfect pacing and distinctive style go far beyond the standard "experimental" expectations. Campbell's reconfiguration of the medium is refreshing in a time when the term "psychedelic" often references the same prescription again and again.

No comments: