September 21, 2006

Seeing The Light

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Psychedelic music can go a couple of ways. On one side, it accelerates and overwhelms the listener’s emotions. Electronic music, like trance, commonly has this effect. The looping, dipping sound brings you to a fever pitch without rising into your intellect. This kind of music is rapturous and swelling, almost ecstatic. It literally drags you along with it.
That expanding acceleration is why I love electronica clubs. When the DJ is skilled, he or she manipulates the crowd’s emotions as directly as a pheromone spray, like a master hypnotist. For 7 or 8 hours she plays records that play you, let you dance without a single thought of anything outside your body. You forget everything but the sensory play of the music. I don’t know whether the experience is a doorway into enlightenment, plain animalism, or both, but such psychedelica has undeniable power.
On the other side, psychedelic music slows to a deeply organic thrum. Rather than heightening the emotions, it drifts into dream territory, veiling the world behind an imagistic play of free association. “Free your mind, man” might be a burnout cliche, but it can be intensely pleasurable to get shaken out of ordinary thought patterns. Certain sounds can open the mind up, surfacing images that seem as vivid as real perception. The right music sends you into a spiral of thoughts that seems eternal until you realize that the light’s green and the guy behind you has been honking for half a minute.
Brightblack Morning Light’s self-titled second album, by a couple who go by Rabob and Nabob, is the latter kind of album, a real mental featherbed. Both Rabob and Nabob were born in rural Alabama, into Southern musical traditions, and southern spirituality has been percolating in their blood long enough to saturate the album with sensuality and holiness. Something about the combination of a Fender Rhodes, backup by the Staple Singers, and a slow guitar calls up both deep southern gospel and new-age wind chimes, without reverting to formula. It sounds like the music of rebellious preachers’ kids, who grew up cleaning out the pipe organ, figured out a few things about God on their own, and fled for California in their teens.
Unlike most of the genre, Brightblack’s songs aren’t odes to hard drugs or spacemen. They are written to the great outdoors. Cuts like “Star Blanket River Child” feel like cleaned up psychedelica, restored to its wild habitat. The lyrics are so hushed and drawn out as to be indecipherable, with only occasional glimmers of meaning poking through. Sometimes, the sudden legibility can disappoint, like when the new-agey line “we hold the crystal/towards the river” suddenly leaps onto your consciousness, but the backing is such a pure aphrodisiac that occasional songwriting flaws are basically meaningless. And other lines, like “have you heard about the silver rain cloud,” are delivered perfectly. Most of the time, like the music that surrounds it, the words should be heard for the way they roll of the singer’s tongues and through their souls rather than for a profound insight. Even if crystal worship now collects dust on the same clearance shelf as pyramid power and dream-catchers, the album’s still strong enough to reel you in.
Individual songs fluctuate smoothly, sometimes layering in soulful backup or the crashing expansion of wide cymbals. The album’s sound rises and falls as though pushed from beneath. But through the shifts, a listener remains emotionally detached. In a way, this music is sexual but cold-blooded, as long and slithery as a mating pair of boa constrictors.
There are a few reasons to actually buy a real copy of this album. For one thing, it’s available from both of the new record stores downtown, which are well worth checking out. For another, there are great extras, like a free a pair of prismatic glasses printed with cannabis leaves. This seems a little strange at first since nothing in the album art calls for a pair of prismatic glasses. I think the two just wanted buyers to feel like the inside of a piece of quartz for a while.
It took me two weeks to review this album. The problem was that whenever I played it, I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t feel like writing a record review, or doing homework, or cleaning my room. I felt like listening.
So, listen. Listen. These songs are pieces of hippie dreams. These songs are beautiful like a beautiful blonde woman slithering into the fold-out bed in the back of a Volkswagen bus. Rain falls. Gemstones are caught in slices of light. Peyote cactuses bloom.