Orange Canyon Mind
"What hath God wrought?" was that original wire transfer Morse sent over copper filaments,the first time we transcended our form via electrical means to extend our influence, our presence in this world. Change out "God" with the modern logical equivalent of "Lou Reed" and you just might find that you ask yourself, what hathn't he wrought? I mean, for a guy who in the greater public consciousness is only responsible for that "Walk on the Wild Side" song, he sure has tilled a lot of musical ground. He helped to invent punk and if the influence of their usually-derided third VU self-titled album is ever recognized, he invented indie rock (and possibly country-rock too, though no one will admit it. I'm still betting Gram Parsons was hip to VU back in the day though). But no, his most contentious invention is his notorious 1975 album Metal Machine Music, a double album of feedback racket that has been alternating considered a fuck-you to the record company or brilliant by everyone who's heard it (including the artist himself, who ,at times, claimed to never have listened to the whole thing, since supposedly side 4 is just side 3 played backwards or something like that) . I mean, there are definite precedents for this 4-sided slab of electrical static and monolithic cosmic menace, but no one had ever brought it as close to the surface as Reed did. And like every ground breaker, its importance is up for debate (like how many people still think Jackson Pollock "couldn't paint") but the evidence in varying strata of music speaks to its impact. Mix this with the stone-circle-sitters up in the mother country and you end up with a special flavor of sonic exploration called space rock. So, I believe I am now going out on a flimsy critical limb and saying that from the seed of Reed sprouted The Eagles, Hawkwind and every record that showed up at my college radio station in the 80's. I will now quit this path before I endanger its validity with hyperbole.
The latest solar flare to scorch my desk that brought up this whole thing is the recent disc Orange Canyon Mind from 20-year UK metal/acid-rock/whatever veterans Skullflower. (among the thing that amazes me about my recent re-introduction to Metal is the longevity of the bands) Let me say this from the get-go, this is a truly melodious affair, where seemingly simple motifs swim like trained koi in intricate patters just under the supercharged surface of fuzz and buzz, and that is what separates this from more "pure" sonic experiments in texture, in that this one is actually enjoyable. Stuff like this picks up on where I feel bands like My Bloody Valentine left off. MBV was ready to go this distance with sheer effect-pedal overload, but I think Kevin Sheilds couldn't let go of the more song-y aspects of his thing, and that quandary left him with one great album completed and revered for a decade and nothing since. To me, lyrics just get in the way on these sonic journeys (look at the throwaway lines Sonic Youth has burdened an otherwise great song with over the years) so thankfully the men of Skullflower are heads-down on task to actualize this atomic blast of blistering sunshine.
This mothership lands among us with the shortwave signal disturbance of "Starry Wisdom" where you can just barely feel the bass chug of machinery deep inside keeping the engine going, where a piercing blusey echo cuts through the fog to let you know there is someone in there. Its a hypnotising stretch of nearly seven minutes of grand-scale space rock refiltered through psychedelia, indie rock explorations, and Lou Reed's angry little engine - or perhaps the members of this collective have been holed up in a fishing shack somewhere, blissfully unaware of their historical ancestors, trying to translate the grey English skies into something more Technicolor. No matter, because this is truly engaging stuff. The title track is my favorite, with its insistent repeat of the same riff throughout its tenure with shimmering streams and wayward blasts of light erupting through the nettles, making this a blinking shimmering ball of shocks and sparks, plummeting down the canyon walls in its namesake, engulfing all that it encounters.
"Annihilating Angel" is the track that strays closest to Metal here, with tidal waves of distortion rage ciphering for indecipherable Black Metal growl vocals, but at one point the static lifts and you are left with a beautiful chiming drone, only to have the locusts to return to devour it once again like Prometheus' liver. "Ghost Ice Aliens" brings to mind Throbbing Gristle (whose "Hamburger Lady" they have covered in their career) caught on tape in a bluesy mood, where the flatulent keyboard and tape feedback stomp in interlaced with the most static of guitar solos. "Goat of a Thousand Young" is definitely the most challenging track, in that it sounds like 20 cd players skipping at once, but after a brief seven minutes of that, you get pulled into the comparatively-jammy tractor beam of "Star Hill." If we are to stick with the spacecraft analogies here, final lift-off comes in the form of "Forked Lightning" where the simultaneous voices of the abducted chatter among the ignition blast, forming an almost impenetrable block of white noise, or at least you think its impenetrable until you notice you are being sucked into its mass. Not the catchiest tune in the world, but still a powerful piece of audio.
Overall, I think that's how I would categorize this release, as a powerful piece of audio, since none of the above genre-artist analogies really cut it. (There is an album by one of my heroes Richard Youngs called Relayer that bears some resemblance, but Orange Canyon Mind is a decidedly heavier meatier affair) If you are looking for some droney rock, but want it heavier, looking for some noise, but want it groovier, looking for industrial but not wanting it so lame and disco-ey, then Skullflower is the outbound ship onto which you should stow away.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
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