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Monday, February 06, 2006

THE ASSEMBLE HEAD IN SUNBURST SOUND

Well, a vinyl of this little beauty has been on the record-deck for a while now, casually elbowing to one side “Axe Victim” by Be Bop Deluxe (with whom it shares a skull's head motif cover):



The Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound combine sooper heavy-duty fuzz-drenched riffage with blissed-out acoustic interludes and early Hawkwind-esque echoplex’d analogue-electronic outros. Some blistering, lysergic Hard Space-Blues moves on display here, guaranteed to slingshot you round the orbit of Saturn into the backend of beyond… or, in simple layman’s terms, those freaks amongst thou who diggeth the deep cosmic explorations of, say, Acid Mothers Temple or Comets on Fire will take to this like Tha Mighty Thor to a hammer. Any band that names a track “Scorpio Sun Queen” gets my vote.

Less frenzied and spazz’d out than the Comets, AHISS’s music rolls and roils, ever onwards, like an enormous wave of swirling sound that slowly gathers mass and kinetic energy before it breaks over you, submerging ya in a spinning micro-galaxy of spinning fuzz-atoms that slowly open out into smooooth musical passageways which’ll ease your woes and wallpaper yr mind w/ harmonious colour-sounds. Nice attention to sonic detail here: in particular, the bass-guitar sounds warm and valve-driven: it’s upfront, pushing the music forward w/ a beautifully-rounded analogue tone that could’ve been temporally-plucked from somewhere between 1969 and 1972. There’s also some cool Hammond and Theremin action backing up the core-band’s Power Rock Trio moves, adding space-rock textures and a feeling of buoyant weightlessness to the proceedings…



There’s also a timeless West Coast kinda feel to the LP that’s reflected in the (occasional) vocals: the slightly haunting backing harmonies on “Storm and Stress” remind me, strangely, of the backing vox on, er, “Recovery Kit” by The Fall, something that’s half-a-world and a zillion genres East of AHISS’s righteous, sun-dazzled Nu Psych melt-down. I’m picking up a whole spectrum of psychic resonances off this LP, ranging from Blue Cheer to early Sabbath to The Rain Parade to The 13th Floor Elevators to, ah, you know

The band are:

Michael Lardas: Drums, Organ.
Jefferson Marshall: Electric, acoustic and bass guitars.
Charles Soufley: Electric & acoustic guitars, vocals, organ and keyboards.

Backed up by Sean Coleman on Hammond/Sitar/Tamboura, and Anderson Lanbridge on (yay!) Theremin.

I knew nowt about the group, except that they're based somewhere in or around San Francisco…but, luckily, guitarist Charlie gamely volunteered to fill in some detail (thanks, man)…

Okay, could I ask you where you're based (San Fran?), and how long you guys have been together?

CHARLIE: “Jefferson, Mike and myself have jammed together here and there since meeting Jefferson about five or six years ago. Mike and I have being doing all kinds of projects together over the last decade or so...most of which are rooted in heavy, sonic and droney styles. It wasn't until about 2003 or 2004 or so that we actually started playing together regularly and putting tunes together as a band. Mike and I were both born here in the Bay Area. Jefferson is kind of a wandering American…did a lot of time in the deepmidwest...Kentucky, Indiana…places like that as well as NYC.”

There's a tag out on the internet saying you've been influenced by folks like "Amon Duul II, Crazy Horse, Fushitsusha, Harvest-era Pink Floyd, Pretty Things, Hawkwind, 13th Floor Elevators, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney..." Do you feel any affinity with those groups or are they unfair comparisons....? Strangely, though, I picked an early Black Sabbath vibe from one of your songs...

CHARLIE: “We admire and love each of those bands. It's safe to say that each is a sonic touchstone in some way. The Neil/Crazy Horse mix of primitivism, power and guitar adventurism is something that's inspired Jefferson and myself immensely. Fushitsusha is inspirational in the same way. So is Mudhoney...Black Flag...The Seeds...Mission of Burma... We also love the freedom and power of out-jazz from Trane/Pharoah/Ayler forward to Dave Burrell and Sonny Sharrock and stuff like that too…again, the sense of adventure on those records is something that guides us as we attempt to expand our instrumental vocabularies.

Old P-Floyd and Amon Duul II are definitely space-voyaging heroes. AD II's “Yeti” was a huge inspiration when we were first playing together as a band and remains a benchmark for us in terms of what a totally unruly, sprawling, indulgent jam can be...super cool guitar stuff on that too. The sounds that the old Floyd made were just so cool....that combination of combo organ, trancey dub bass, guitars all echoed out.... We still do a lot of jams down at the practice space that relate a lot to things like "Careful with that Axe, Eugene" as well as the first couple Doors records, the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the King Tubby dub style... The styles of those bands aren't necessarily a part of the make up of this record or forms we're interested in aping, but the instrumentation and sonic elements that populate those records are often integral parts of our tunes and sounds we really love. The slide work and organ drones that tart up our folkier tunes certainly owes something to these cosmonaut bands, as does much of the organ work elsewhere on the record.

As for the Elevators and Pretty Things...bands like Love, as well... they all deliver such cool tunes in the context of out-there, transcendent spaciness....they're the all-time psych tunesmiths. When you're putting together songs, guys like the Elevators and Arthur Lee or Syd Barrett can light the way out of the riff-trap, which is easy to get snared in if you're working from a heavy guitar and drums foundation. All of which is to say....yeah, all those bands are enormously important to us and sometimes really influential on the sound itself.

We could never claim to be able to hang in such company, and we're definitely not interested in being part of some sort of revivalist movement. But I'd be really happy if we were be able to create something enduring that married the tunefulness of a "Forever Changes" track with the heaviness of Sabbath or Crazy Horse, the spacey vibe of “Saucerful of Secrets” and the out-there adventures of Fushtisusha Live or Trane's “Ascesnsions”. I've not heard that achieved very often. It would be great to leave behind one great tune that hit that mark and said something new in the process.”

I see you namechecked Ethan and the Comets on Fire crew on your insert....you're totally different-sounding bands, but you've both got a kinda edgy fuzz-drenched hard 'blues' feel to you...probably lazy of me to say, but do you think that's something that maybe permeates or partially defines the sound of modern West Coast Psych ...that maybe makes you part of an on-going musical lineage?

CHARLIE: “Ethan and the Comets are good pals. We actually share practice space and they've been a huge inspiration both musically and on the more practical side of making and distributing the LP. I think the track sequence is actually one Ethan suggested. The Comets are also certainly among the bands that have come closest to that ideal synthesis of tuneful, soulful, mad, out-there-ness I mentioned. “Field Recordings From the Sun”, in particular, is just amazing in that respect. I think over time it'll be regarded as one of the all time greats.

The edgy hard blues thing comes from a lot of places, of course. I think that both the Comets and the AHISS derive the essence of that sound from some pretty classic sources that date back to the 60's and that morphed via Sabbath, Dino Jr. and a thousand other things. I don't think that's just specific to the West Coast. Dead Meadow, Pearls and Brass, even Acid Mothers Temple all spin something unique from this sound from many corners of the country/world.

I do think that many of the really good bands coming out of San Francisco/No. Cal over the last few years…Comets, Residual Echoes, Gris Gris, Six Organs, Vetiver, Davendra B, Kelley Stoltz, etc all share a certain unhinged element and a tendency to stray more willingly from stylistic expectations than others that may be operating in the contemporary psych realm. That may be part of an SF musical heritage…A lot of the output from the SF bands from the 60's…Anthem of the Sun, the first Moby Grape and Quicksilver records, 50 Ft Hose, Sly/Family Stone isn't as immediately appealing to folks as the Doors or Jimi or Cream or whatever. But they often seem less constrained by the idea of what a psychedelic/soul/rock record was supposed to be. That attitude certainly applies to other SF bands through the ages: Chrome, Dead Kennedys, Monoshock, DJ Shadow, etc. Despite all the homogenization that's killing anything that was ever cool about American culture, I think San Francisco and Northern California has always been populated by a army of freaks that wouldn't really fit in many other places and don't really care. That probably tends to make for a stylistic recklessness across much of the good art that comes out of the region.

It's also the kind of place that lends itself to classic adolescent experiences like hiking around the hills in the summertime, smoking weed and jamming Zep or Public Enemy or Minor Threat or whatever. Maybe those two factors have something to do with an SF approach to making music and how classic forms can sometimes mutate in this environment. If that's a real thing, and not just the product of my more romantic imagination, I hope we can be part of that tradition.

Hope that answers your questions in some form, K. Again, thanks so much for picking up the record and taking the time to write. It really is cool to hear some hollers from the UK.”

The pleasure's all mine, guys.

6 Comments:

At 8:30 pm, Blogger rocket ron said...

wow .thats far out. ive been listening to axe victim to, but it got edged out by radio birdman... man

 
At 7:59 pm, Blogger kek-w said...

Well, that's what happens when you relocate to Aus.

I was listening to Radio Birdman, but it got edged out by The Saints.

Hey, what's not to like about "Ax Victim"? It's a 'lost' Glam classic. Plus much fretwankery. Great photo of Bill Nelson on the back cover w/ a Bowie feather-cut mullet and far too much make-up...he practically invented the Goth-Glam look; he was Robert Smith of the Cure before Robert Smith of the Cure was even invented. Went a bit 'clean-cut' later on, though.

"Futurama" ain't bad either.

 
At 10:28 am, Blogger rocket ron said...

yea, the red noise was the end. he even tried wearing my red soul trousers. did you check out the link in my blog kek.thought youd find it amusing...

 
At 10:41 am, Blogger rocket ron said...

hey talking of the saints... sherborne was flooded with copies of "im stranded"by the pikeys at pack monday fair back in 77. giving it away as a duffer prize at the coconut nut shy... saw chris bailey play in a shit hole in perth.. surreal. "he sounded like the bastard child of willie nelson....

 
At 8:17 pm, Blogger kek-w said...

Chris Bailey: what a hero...totally under-rated...

I checked out The Flesh Machine link a few days ago...listened to "This Fine City" wh/ was always one of my favourites, and was surprised to find it was a live version...

Was that recorded at the gig at The Armoury, Yeovil? You also played The Kings Arms too, didn't you (is that when you went mental on acid down the Bargain Burger Bar after the gig and drew an electric line on the floor that only you could see and wouldn't let the other customers step over it...?) Jeez, must be nearly twenty years ago. I forgot that Trendy Brendy played w/ you for a while. By coincidence, I saw Dave 'Fozzie' Foster in town a couple weeks ago...

 
At 11:07 pm, Blogger rocket ron said...

the line is still there...

 

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