This Saturday, psych afficionados of all creeds should converge onto the Metro Gallery for a fantastic double album release party featuring 2 acid-drenched locals: Sri Aurobindo and the Violet Hour.
From the earliest creators of psychedelic music, the manipulation of consciousness has been the foremost inspiration in their songcraft. The 13th Floor Elevators, on their landmark debut Psychedelic Sounds, describe their motivations simply yet profoundly: “It is this quest for pure sanity that forms the basis of the songs…”
With this epic-length instrumental release, Sri Aurobindo give their most convincing vehicle for fulfilling this journey, and come up with successes on a number of fronts. Now, clocking in at over 32 minutes long, its length alone may have some people running the other direction. And while I readily admit this is not something that I’m going to put into the CD player on a regular basis, I think this release has a special and unique place in any collection.
For any single track of this length, its primary concern is taking the listener on an engaging journey (presumably the “quest for pure sanity”). As such, it’s clear that the Sris took meticulous care to carve out a picturesque sonic sojourn, from the wisps of ethereal, airy jazz flute to deep, warm earthy drones. The primal shamanistic beats and melodies sweep you away in that classic, consciousness-expanding tradition of psychedelia. Each of three large, crescendoing sections feels like a distinct, raw trip tapping into some immense wellspring of inspiration from the natural world. Sections successively bring more visceral sounds and instrumentation (ie: heavier guitars, less haze), building upon the foundations of the last. When the big, burned out electric guitars finally emerge 2/3 of the way through the track, you are more than ready for their stream-of-consciousness revelations, hopping from motif to motif and getting closer to the horizontalization of the hierarchy of thought espoused by the Elevators.
There are some really great moments on this release. Sri Aurobindo have embraced more varied instrumentation, and display great maturity in songwriting by channeling all manner of spiritual and elemental forces in pursuit of that holy grail of psychedelia: “pure sanity.” Since they cannot walk the journey, only show you the way, how close they get to achieving this is largely determined by you.
The Violet Hour – The Violet Hour (Creative Capitalism)
The Violet Hour’s (Andriana Pateris and Beth Varden) long-delayed debut CD is a strong musical manifesto: silky smooth vocal harmonies (weighty with mid-range) mixing with reverb-heavy, meditative guitar and measured drums into a hypnotizing brew. ”Peripheral Vision” is as smokily moody as its lyrics sung on “two hearts on fire.” ”Southern Cross” is remarkable for the twinkling luster of its arpeggiated opening (a likely homage to its astronomical namesake) and a stark contrast amidst a sea of more worn and foggy sounds. The track’s lyrics intwertwine themes both spiritual and celestial.
The strongest track to my mind is the closer (“XXXVI”) which picks up the pace along with a few earlier tracks, but ultimately their net effect is a sort of bas relief to the rest of the album, rather than a lasting, lifting one. As a result, I think the record suffers under the unyielding weight of downcast moods, mostly downtempo pacing and similar keys, while simultaneously gaining a beautiful sense of consistency and cohesion. The soaring vocal harmonies and the distinct mood created are the most compelling aspects of this album, and point to very bright things in the future. I can’t think of a better pairing of sounds for Saturday’s show.