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Skullflower: Orange Canyon mind

The new full length from the legendary UK free/drone/psych outfit Skullflower, featuring some of the most searing, synapse scorching droneworks that Matthew Bower (the man behind Skullflower, as well as Sunroof! and The Hototogisu) has unleashed to date, in our humble opinion. Orange Canyon Mind is the follow up to 2002’s awesome Exquisite Fucking Boredom (Tumult Records), and continues that albums utter mutation of stoned out riffs pulled taffy-like into eternity/oblivion and star-rupturing blasts of sonic white light. Over the 8 tracks/60 minute running time, Bower and cohorts build massive horizontal drones and melodic supernovas. Superb, beautiful, brain melting stuff.

Unlike the usual gallons of boredom retrieved from dissecting a band’s biography and/or discography, a glance into Skullflower and Matthew Bower’s evolution since 1985 yields abnormally phenomenal results. His constant urge to disturb frail equilibriums and heighten the musical/aural experience to denser dimensions is amazingly inspirational, for it carelessly abolishes all conventional signals and symbolisms, destroying the sacrosanct principles of homogeneity that oriented the course of loud rock music since its inception. The uncontrolled, quasi-anarchical state of constant “maximalist overload” is so intense it might actually fool anyone who recklessly experiences it into perceiving it as some sort of minimalist expressionism. As for Orange Canyon Mind, one might say that Bower’s objective of achieving a truly multi-dimensional sound is achieved in an almost frightening way. The “being on a hilltop hearing a distant fairground and rock festival and factories all at once” metaphor is unarguably materialised, even if only in conceptual terms, as well as the idea that defines the group as an American rock band as imagined by an English noise band. Both these metaphors provide an encompassing and somewhat breathy notion of what Skullflower is all about, even though they fail to convey the thoughts and sensations inspired by the actual music. Thus, in a sense, it is rather pointless for me to even try to describe what these sweeping electrical winds instil after a prolonged listening session, as it is beyond Lovecraftian in strangeness (not only because of the first song’s odd title), but I feel somewhat obliged to testify to its dreamy-like brilliance. There is something uncannily disturbing about the hybrid nature of the music and, be it because of the rock/bluesy riffs and their hypnotic power or the raucous attitude of the omnipresent layers of sepia noise, the final outcome is sheathed with lush, glittering warmth that is as compelling as it is desolate. With that in mind, and taking into account recent releases by Sunn O))), Pelican and Old Man Gloom, a fair warning should be heralded to anyone enticed by biased comparisons, for even though each of the bands mentioned earlier is, in one way or another, rapturously exciting, there is something much more seminal, grittier and older lurking in Skullflower’s music that turns it into something radically different and yet just as appealing. Beware of false idols, because this is the real thing. from “metal spaceship music” written by Alex Cook for Outsideleft.com:
“What hath God wrought?” was that original wire transfer Morse sent over copper filaments,the first time we transcended our form via electrical means to extend our influence, our presence in this world. Change out “God” with the modern logical equivalent of “Lou Reed” and you just might find that you ask yourself, what hathn’t he wrought? I mean, for a guy who in the greater public consciousness is only responsible for that “Walk on the Wild Side” song, he sure has tilled a lot of musical ground. He helped to invent punk and if the influence of their usually-derided third VU self-titled album is ever recognized, he invented indie rock (and possibly country-rock too, though no one will admit it. I’m still betting Gram Parsons was hip to VU back in the day though). But no, his most contentious invention stems from his notorious album Metal Machine Music, a double album of feedback racket that has been alternating considered a fuck-you to the records company to brilliant by everyone who’s heard it and the artist himself. I mean, there are definite precedents for this 4-sided slab of electrical static and monolithic cosmic menace, but no one had ever brought it as close to the surface as Reed did. And like ever ground breaker, its importance up for debate (like how many people still think Jackson Pollock “couldn’t paint”…) but the evidence in varying strata of music speaks to its impact. Mix this with the stone-circle-sitters up in the mother country and you end up with a special flavor called of sonic exploration called space rock. So, I believe I am now going out on a flimsy critical limb and saying that from the seed of Reed sprouted The Eagles, Hawkwind and every record that showed up at my college radio station in the 80’s. I will now quit this path before I endanger its validity with hyperbole.
The latest solar flare to scorch my desk that brought up this whole thing is the recent disc Orange Canyon Mind from 20-year UK metal/acid-rock/whatever veterans Skullflower. (among the thing that amazes me about my recent re-introduction to Metal is the longevity of the bands) Let me say this from the get-go, this is a truly melodious affair, where seemingly simple motifs swim like trained koi in intricate patters just under the supercharged surface of fuzz and buzz, and that is what separates this from more “pure” sonic experiments in texture, in that this one is actually enjoyable. Stuff like this picks up on where I feel bands like My Bloody Valentine left off. MBV was ready to go this distance with sheer effect-pedal overload, but I think Kevin Sheilds couldn’t let go of the more song-y aspects of his thing, and that quandary left him with one great album completed and revered for a decade and nothing since. To me, lyrics just get in the way on these sonic journeys (look at the throwaway lines Sonic Youth has burdened an otherwise great song with over the years) so thankfully the men of Skullflower are heads-down on task to actualize this atomic blast of blistering sunshine.
This mothership lands among us with the shortwave signal disturbance of “Starry Wisdom” where you can just barely feel the bass chug of machinery deep inside keeping the engine going, where a piercing blusey echo cuts through the fog to let you know there is someone inside. Its a hypnotising stretch of nearly seven minutes of grand-scale space rock refiltered through psychedelia, indie rock explorations, and Lou Reed’s angry little engine …. or perhaps the members of this collective have been holed up in a fishing shack somewhere, blissfully unaware of their historical ancestors, trying to translate the grey English skies into something more Technicolor. No matter, because this is truly engaging stuff. The title track is my favorite, with its insistent repeat of the same riff throughout its tenure with shimmering streams and wayward blasts of light erupting through the nettles, making this a blinking shimmering ball of shocks and sparks, plummeting down the canyon walls in its namesake, engulfing all that it encounters.
“Annihilating Angel” is the track that strays closest to Metal here, with tidal waves of rage ciphering for indecipherable Black Metal growl vocals, but at one point the static lifts and you are left with a beautiful chiming drone, only to have the locusts to return to devour it once again like Prometheus’ liver. “Ghost Ice Aliens” brings to mind Throbbing Gristle (whose “Hamburger Lady” they have covered in their career) caught on tape in a bluesy mood, where the flatulent keyboard and tape feedback stomp in interlaced with the most static of guitar solos. “Goat of a Thousand Young” is definitely the most challenging track, in that it sounds like 20 cd players skipping at once, but after a brief seven minutes of that, you get pulled into the comparatively-jammy tractor beam of “Star Hill”. If we are to stick with the spacecraft analogies here, final lift-off comes in the form of “Forked Lightning” where the simultaneous voices of the abducted chatter among the ignition blast, forming an almost impenetrable block of white noise, or at least you think its impenetrable until you notice you are being sucked into its mass. Not the catchiest tune in the world, but still a powerful piece of audio.
Overall, I think that’s how I would categorize this release, as a powerful piece of audio, since none of the above genre-artist analogies really cut it. If you are looking for some droney rock, but want it heavier, looking for some noise, but want it groovier, looking for industrial but not wanting it so lame and disco-ey, then Skullflower is the outbound ship onto which you should stow away.

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