Crate-Digging: Ancient Ocean and Expo ’70 – Ancient Ocean / Expo ’70 split

(No=Fi Recordings, 2012)

I did Expo ’70’s Justin Wright a disservice when I reviewed his Blackout album earlier this year – he got hit with the proverbial journalistic gimmick column, where the writer latches on to a theme or a device and hangs on for dear life, no matter how the results pan out. I treated listening to Blackout like an endurance test undertaken by a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century scientist, and the “stream-of-experience” notes I jotted made up the entirety of the review. Here it is, if you’d like to relive it.

Soooo … yeah. I’m not going to do that again. First, it wouldn’t be fair to Wright to gimmick him twice, and it sure wouldn’t be fair to Ancient Ocean’s John Bohannon, a totally innocent bystander in all of this. He’s along for the ride, Wright’s flipside, but he’s not second fiddle – he’s a pretty masterful sonic manipulator in his own right. Italy’s No=Fi Recordings pressed this shiny piece of wax, and conscripted Wright and Bohannon to record a side each, and so each set up an amp and a boombox and hit record … no they didn’t. I’m sure they have better equipment. Stop rambling? OK.

Ancient Ocean has side A – let’s call it side A for Ancient Ocean since there’s no real A or B on a split (not a democratic one anyway) – and fills it with twenty minutes of wondrous tones evoking, you guessed it, undersea depths, expansive immersion, and marine mystery. Or, if you don’t want to word-associate, you could be hearing transmissions from a far-off, desolate planet – the kind that adorn the covers of old sci-fi paperbacks. Either way, it’s all well and good as there’s an honest-to-goodness guitar eruption in the middle, breaking through the ambience around the 9-minute mark. It doesn’t last terribly long, and is replaced by carefully processed and played guitar picking that gradually wisps and flutters before fading away. Word-associating again, on a track called “Decomposition // Decay,” you can imagine Bohannon’s conceptual process in its title before even hearing it, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Expo ’70 also delivers a lengthy side-long track, “Waves in Caverns of Air,” and if there’s a better descriptor on a record sleeve of the music that you’ll find within, I haven’t seen it. Well, maybe I have, I just can’t think of one. Point is, Wright’s experimental improv here sounds exactly like its title. It’s almost pointless for me to describe it any further, you’ve heard it by looking at it. That’s not to sell it short – the eerie dread permeating the static drones is palpable, and the air – the caverns of air – is thick, hard to breathe. Like, maybe, the atmosphere on a far-off, desolate planet – the kind that adorn the covers of old sci-fi paperbacks. Right? Think of it – crashed ship, out-of-control mission, discovery of alien origin within massive natural feature – I think Wright’s got the idea. The strange electronic flourishes throughout mimic desperate, unanswered SOS signals, likely frantically transmitted in the face of horrific extraterrestrial tragedy. Hm, sounds like a movie soundtrack. Or the incidental music at a haunted planetarium.

In case you were wondering, these guys do experimental improvisational drone right. There isn’t much more you can say about that – they evoke space, time, mood, and atmosphere in such a palpable way that you can’t help but engross yourself completely in it. It’s hard not to know what you’re getting into with an artist calling himself “Ancient Ocean,” or a track titled “Waves in Caverns of Air.” You expect time and space to bend, and perspective to dwarf you. Here, Wright and Bohannon have done exactly that.

RIYL: Voder Deth Squad, Niggas with Guitars, Golden Retriever


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