Monday, October 13, 2008

Sun Araw - Beach Head (Not Not Fun LP)

A while back, I reviewed Sun Araw's first album, The Phynx, which fell into a psych guitar, Parson Sound niche that was really killer. Given that discs ripping guitar overhauls, I would never have guessed that his next two releases, Boat Trip and this one, would have gone to the territory they do. Rather than slaying its listener into spaced out freak out heaven/hell, these two releases opted for an equal dose of spacey while enlisting wholly different doped up vibes to perform the task.

Opening with the tinkling bells of, you guessed it, "Thoughts Are Bells," Beach Head is one spaced out tropical adventure into the jellyfish fields of your mind. This is some lay back on the sands and ooze into the stars stuff. The beginning might as well be some exploration into chime-based avant-garde composition, but Cameron Stallones knows how to let those elements blend into something completely different, eventually allowing the piece to melt its way into raga/mantra no-man's land. Or dig "Horse Steppin'," which is essentially a pop tune complete with steady, loping bass line, drum prancing, guitar swells and thick chordal organ blocks that, if flown a couple thousand miles north, would sit just as well in the hands of Suicide. Still, Stallones has a way of taking these tried and true techniques and blending them in bizarre and truly heady ways. The whole thing, right down to his cries and the Hendrixian guitars, suggests nothing of what the overall effect is--this is some chilled to the bone material, summer jams for stoner hams. Everything is blends so well, each sound melting across itself, that you'll be grabbing a cold one before you know it.

A lot of people seem to be opting for this tropical, reggae-fied drone stuff lately, and I guess the two share enough in common in terms of the mental state they require. But whereas too many of these groups end up sounding a little too close to the Jimmy Buffets that they're theoretically mocking, it takes a different sort to work something that is actually original in this vein. Spencer Clark's Monopoly Child Star Searchers pulls it off, as does Ducktails most of the time, but Sun Araw contains none of the humid grime of Monopoly Child nor the quirky mini constructs of Ducktails, instead falling somewhere in between. Side two opens with "Beams," another pop tune of sorts, with finger-picked guitar melody, reverb infused tequila backing drone, and vocal forms that are quite well controlled. Whispers come across the speakers as if Amon Duul II stepped in for a second. It's all very controlled in its spaciness.

Actually, the Amon Duul comment may not be far off. When the bass riff comes in, cementing the whole thing to a disjointed, Hawkwind style heavy metal vibe, it becomes clear that Stallones is pulling from those same krautrock and acid metal guys that he was on The Phynx. Only this time it's slowed down and sprawled all the way out. His guitar work careens across in shawls of rich tone while the percussion keeps it all loping along like some head bobbing acid casualty. That last track will, "Bridal Filly," will have you nodding off and drowning in no time. It's beautiful stuff, and if you think it's too late to enjoy the summer vibes think again. This stuff will keep you warmed all the way through the Ice Age.

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