(Space Slave, 2013)
For the second time in November (well, heck, I guess it’ll be December when this posts), a Critical Masses staff member is here to heap a tremendous amount of praise on a new release from cassette-only experimental drone/noise label Space Slave. Ryan did it a few weeks ago with a new release from Attenuated, and I am about to do the same thing with a self-titled release from guitar looper Righteous Acid. Again, it must be said that Space Slave and their artists are certainly not in it for the money. Each of their releases comes in super-limited runs of just 100 cassettes. This one, for instance, includes artwork from Phil French of Super Minerals/Stunned Records and a thousand other awesome things. (Ryan reviewed a Super Minerals/Plankton Wat split tape on Stunned back in the day.) That’s it for physicality, though they are also available to download for free on Bandcamp. But that’s the business, and we aren’t here for the business, we’re here for the music.
Oh my. The music. What a psychedelic joy this tape is. It would appear that Alex Sarad, the man behind Righteous Acid, has his hand in a few different experimental releases, both as Righteous Acid and with other trippy-sounding bands including Mosaic Orgasm and Bakersfield Astral Troup. But I must admit to going into this album with zero familiarity with Sarad, a fact I plan to remedy as soon as this review is finished. A brief 30 minutes spent with his music isn’t nearly enough.
But that might be this tape’s greatest trick: its “restraint,” an adjective not normally used when describing “guitar looping.” As an artist, it’s really easy to let yourself fall in love with your sound and assume that the fans will love your entire 45-minute loop jam masterpiece as much as you do. Longest song here? Just over 5 minutes. But then again, Righteous Acid does a lot of things differently from what I would expect a “guitar-looping” band to do. For one, it bears literally nothing in common with the music of Robert Fripp or Brian Eno, the creators of the genre. I normally expect recordings described to me as such to be simply a new artist’s take on the language innovated by the two 40-odd years ago. I’m generally fine with that. In fact, I’m what you could call a “sucker” for that kind of thing.
This isn’t that kind of thing. But this is one talented man jamming with himself. Layer after layer of wah-wah’d guitars wash over downbeat, funky percussion tracks. Whether or not these percussion tracks are performed or sampled is up for debate. Perhaps both are true. But the mystery is part of the joy. The fact that almost every track sounds like it could be a sample from some long-lost early jazz-fusion album is a perfect compliment to pay this collection. It’s like the supergroup John McLaughlin, Fela Kuti, and Tony Williams never got around to forming.
From the initial fade-in of Alex’s hazy layered guitars on “Coolidge Ave. (We Frippy Mane)” (eight tracks in all), I was immediately hooked by the warmth of the recording. When the first soulful bassline is laid down, I was only further warmed by the quivering analog tones. Like another favorite band of mine, Citay, the psychedelic hippie-ness of the music is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Dueling distant distorted guitars pan back and forth across the sound field as the simplest of percussion (hand claps, tambourine, and bass drum) keep the whole thing from floating into the ether. The resulting vibe rides through the entire release. A bong-ripped conglomeration of funk, African blues, and ’60s San Francisco rock with a heavy dose of noise and experimentation make the whole thing sound familiar and alien at the same time.
If I hadn’t told you that this was one dude, I doubt you would even realize that this is a layered, looping affair. Take “Kern Canyon” for instance. Wouldn’t be hard to convince me that a stage full of amazingly sunglassed musicians are attempting their retake of ideas formed on Miles Davis’ essential In a Silent Way. This music breathes in the same way that classic album does. It’s thoughtful, sensitive, and downright pretty in many places. It’s flashbackingly disorienting at other times. And at a restrained 30 minutes, the whole cassette is infinitely listenable.
RIYL: Miles Davis, Citay, WAR, Fela Kuti