(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Recording review - Anywhere, Anywhere (2012)

World-wide psych-prog sounds make a spicy treat

Anywhere started as a collaboration between Christian Eric Beaulieu (Tryclops!, Liquid Indian) on guitar and Cedric Bixler-Zavela (At the DriveIn, the Mars Volta) on drums and vocals. Through fortuitous circumstance, legendary Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE) joined in on bass. They rounded out the sound with vocals from Rachel Fannen (ex-Sleepy Sun) and extra guitar work from Toshi Kasai (Big Business).

Anywhere's overall feeling is hypnotic and obsessive, with psychedelic/progressive execution, but each song finds its own stylistic center. Beaulieu's experimentation with Indian raga forms the artistic vision and Bixler-Zavela's heavily syncopated drum work propels the music. Even though Watt came into this project later, his bass lines are the essential glue to tie the pieces together. I'm very familiar with Watt's work with the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, but his playing here is phenomenal.

The second track, Rosa Rugosa, starts with a down tempo backbeat. Between the relaxed rhythm and Fannen's haunting vocals, it reminds me of Dengue Fever's opiated jams. Wandering bits of melody lurk at the edges of this progressive psychedelia. The bridge interlude features some very nice acoustic guitar work before the tempo kicks up. The acoustic and the drums create an Indian flair while the electric guitar ties the jam back to rock. The bass pushes the song forward and the pressure climbs, wrenching loose wisps of vocals. The seven and a half minutes passes all too quickly.

This is where Anywhere shows its pacing. The assertive end of Rosa Rugosa yields to Khamsin's ambient tones. This sectional piece begins with a sound sculpture that acts as a call to meditation with swells of sound and chimes. Once the track transitions into a more traditional song structure, the bass and the drums create an OK Computer era Radiohead progressive feel. Bixler-Zavela's falsetto vocals fit that sound as well: "Tempted, I'm always tempted". Mike Watt's soothing bass counters the rhythmic punch and staccato guitar as it defines the feel of the descending run. Khamsin eventually falls into a sparser sound as the drums drive into heavily syncopated fills. The mix of sounds create a unique vibe. The jerky beat and instrumentation lean towards worldbeat, but with a higher rock energy. Anywhere's press refers to "Eastern acoustic punk" and that might be the best descriptor.

Those cross-cultural bridges continue with Dead Golden West. The foundation is a Western folk rock, but foreign aesthetics creep in. On its surface, it reminds me of retro British folk rock explorations, but the outside influences are stronger: it's like Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive meets Touré Kunda. Rachel Fannen's vocals are both ethereal and thickened with overdub, softening the track's edges.

Digging through the melange of sounds is like picking individual spices from a masala: retro hints of Gentle Giant, Renaissance, and Jefferson Airplane blend with sharper bits of King Crimson and the Mars Volta. The combined whole, though is just tasty.

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