After being exposed to COVID-19 by none other than my flat–mate, I’ve spent the end of the week mostly holed up in my room alone, foregoing even the occasional errands at the grocery store or post office that kept me somewhat sane these years. Though I’ve continued to test negative for the virus on self-testing kits at home, the requisite quarantine period has given me some time to catch up on the latest music out there, at least until a lab confirms good health. To be honest, it’s been the best-case scenario given the circumstances: withdrawing hermetically even from the most mundane outside routines, I’ve been able to delve deep into three gems released just this past week and give them the attention they deserve.
Acid Mothers Reynols, “Vol. 2” (Hive Mind Records)
Two troupes of free-rock psychedelic troubadours traipse through a tightrope of tension and release on this scorching international affair. In the midst of a 2017 South American tour, the Japanese ensemble Acid Mothers Temple evidently locked themselves in an acid trip dungeon with Argentine quartet Reynolds (forced many moons ago by threat of litigation to remove the namesake “Burt” from their records), and out came a thick syrup of Hendrixian hallucinations travelling across the galaxy at the speed of synths. The Mothers’ signature breakneck-speed space-rock is still on display, but it’s tempered by the moody, almost baroque freak-folk meditations of the Buenos Aires boys, steeped in a brew of smoky blues meditations and the influence of their one-time collaborator Pauline Oliveros. This is the second full-length product to come out of that fateful meeting of the minds, and I sure hope it’s not the last. If their collective studio archives are tapped out, then I’d humbly suggest the two bands simply move in together and merge permanently. No big deal.
Wil Bolton & Francis Gri, “Imaginary Tales” (KrysaliSound)
In a stillness so fragile it feels like it might shatter at any moment, this powerful duet album paints a piercing portrait of sharp winter air, flutesong floating like fog above rolling meadows of piano and stretched-out guitar. Though reminiscent in its cloying harmonies of those weird private-press new age records before that sound became ubiquitous in every massage therapist’s waiting room, there’s an added element of poise and mourning, the sort of Richard Skelton-esque sweeping cinematic gravitas that draws tears out of a heart of stone. Sit with it.
Beast Nest, “Sicko” (Ratskin Records)
“I hope you use this album to feel excited on a road trip, or connect to plants, or clean your house, or come down from a bad trip,” writes Sharmi Basu. “I hope this album is like a heating pad on a cold evening.” Their newest Beast Nest album Sicko is indeed a soothing balm reflective and reaffirming of our wounds within us. In that sense it feels like the Vicks VapoRub so many parents and aunties and grandparents lathered on our sternums at the first sign of any illness: maybe not the prescribed cure for what ails you, but nevertheless leaving you with a warm euphoria for the rest of the night.
Blending Indian classical tanpura-esque drones with techno-alien drum machine loops, swirling modular synthesizer arpeggios and buzzing helicopter noise into a hypnotic fever dream of an album is Beast Nest’s way of reminding us that just as peace is not the mere absence of war, so too freedom is far more than the mere breaking of chains, and healing is more than recovery.
As I have written before (I would link to my 2015 review if the Decoder Magazine archives were accessible online), Beast Nest’s idiosyncratic yet intricately-felt sonic language aims to communicate through our deepest nerve centres, liberating hidden synapses and collective ways of being free from institutions of oppression. Musically, it’s a similar sensation to the first Beast Nest cassette, a self-released handmade affair with unique cotton balls and beads taped to the spray-painted shell. It communicates to us in a way that music is not “supposed to” under establish norms for its consumption. It comes bearing secrets. Sometimes all it takes to be free from limitations is to be reminded that they are there, just as confronting death can remind us when someone ceases to “be” of what fully “being” is.
Albums like Sicko comprise a rare pantheon of works that can tap into your lizard brain without needing to make coherent sense in a “formal” way, instead forming a seamless suture between private language and public discourse. They challenge us to embody a society that values music over money, healing over hurting, sharing over hoarding. Music itself is a powerful healing gift we can give to one another, painful though its conception may be, to stake out liberatory and healing values. Take your time, trust your gut, and give what you can.