Linus Pauling Quartet - "Ashes in the Bong of God" (Fleece Records 2000, FL# 18)
Dunlavy - "John Merkel is a Miracle" (Fleece Records 1998, FL# 12)
From Aural Innovations #16 (June 2001)
The Linus Pauling Quartet of Houston, Texas came to my stereo a few years' back when I was preparing my 'look' at the recent explosion of crazed psychedelia emanating from that state of one Lone Star (no, not George W. Bush). Their 1998 'Killing You With Rock' album knocked me clean off my feet, especially the 20-minute opus "The Great Singularity," culiminating with a piece called the "Dance of the Bugpeople," which subsequently I'd learned actually appeared on an earlier LP. Well, the Bugpeople and this same "Great Singularity" are once again the focus of 'Ashes in the Bong of God," however all the music here is original... the LPQ (or LP4 as they prefer) are just finally getting around to trying to tell the story behind it all. And it's a crazy one that is explained by guitarist/vocalist Clinton Heider in an echoed voiceover that goes on (over four segments), Oh God, must be a good 20 minutes... too long for my patience regardless. And anyway, the whole thing is meant to be absorbed in a chemically-enhanced state (as it seems it might have been created and/or delivered), so there you go. You need to procure your own 'Mournebong' and 'Stonebringer' well in advance.
The same six folks (strange for a quartet you might think, but then they started out with just four, so give 'em a break, eh?) are back from the previous effort, though saxophonist/guitarist Charlie Ebersbaker has decided to drop the 'Horshack' moniker. The album opens with the strongest work actually, the 13-minute psychedelic drone-fest titled "The Man" colored by completely freaked-out sax wailing by Ebersbaker and about half-way in, a bunch of rants about just who 'The Man' might be. Then begins the 'Great Singularity' story... just a couple minute introduction to start as a bunch of freaky sounds and effects swirl about. "Birds of the Amazon" is another cool looping jam with light licks from Heider's guitar jumping about the buzzing guitar drone from Ramon Medina. The birds are chirping electronic devices of some sort that sing throughout. Now back to our story... during "Two Artifacts" the voiceover is pretty well buried behind the slow, heavy rock-jam backing, but later during "History" the voice starts to become distracting, and by then I'm getting tired of listening around the story... 'cause you can't really hear what Heider's saying all the time anyway. Before this happens, keyboardist Flip Osman gets his best chance to work out his Moog synths during another instrumental jam interlude ("Peter Buck vs. Billy Barty in the Great Unknown"), another strong track.
OK, I think I had enough of the long-winded story. The first thirty minutes of 'Ashes' is really worthwhile though and enough to recommend taking a look at this one after picking up 'Killing You With Rock.' But after that... too little formally-composed music and too much ad hoc ranting making this one a bit less, oh I guess I'll say, accessible. The subdued vocal track "Airplane" (taken from a live radio show) is tacked on to extend the disc to nearly 70 minutes, but it doesn't really add much even though it's actually a better recording than "Grrrl" and "Helicopter in Tunisia" before it, which are kinda muddy and are plagued by a dropout or two.
Now I'll include a brief review of a related artist on the same Fleece label, 'cause both the LP4 and Dunlavy were born from members of The Mike Gunn (I'll have to tell you about their excellent 'Almaron' album someday). Scott Grimm was the bassist in that band, and now has his solo project Dunlavy going strong, with his fifth album just out on Camera Obscura. We'll tell you more about that one next time, but for now, let's take a look back a year or two to 'John Merkel is a Miracle.' Scant liner notes don't allow me to say much about other musicians that might appear on the album (perhaps just Grimm himself?), but Kyle Silfer (who wrote the liner notes for the LP4 album strangely enough) and Mark Baumgartner are credited with doing the voices and 'bubbling,' whatever that may be.
'John Merkel' features five long tracks (40 minutes) that wander between guitar-psychedelia, á la the Woronzow and Delerium labels in the UK, and a more modern instrumental music that is highly inventive and exciting. The aforementioned 'voices' include a couple peculiar conversation 'plays' that show up a couple times... less intrusive than the LP4 commentary thankfully. Grimm's guitar playing on the opener "Light" is deliciously bubbly and the whole track is trance-inspiring, and I mean that in a good way. The acoustic "Chili Dog" also includes some hushed whispers, not certain who that might be 'singing.' "Herkimer" is a really interesting work of art... a languidly-paced, dreamy affair that wouldn't be out-of-place on album by any number of the more laid-back 'post-rockers' like Cerberus Shoal, or perhaps Spritualized. Here the synth-violins are the necessary ingredient to make it all work. On "Luminescent," the artificially-bassified voices are mixed effectively with natural voice. The drum track here seems synthetic, whereas earlier I thought they were 'real' - but regardless, this is another remarkably mesmerizing episode. "Heavy," unlike "Light," is heavy... but I figure you probably already guessed that. A decent slab of fuzz- and wah-guitar psychedelia, juxtaposed against a scrap of ambient noodles until the very end.
I really enjoyed my first tastes of Dunlavy, and look forward to hearing more of this 'band.' I think I probably have enough albums of pure psychedelia, and (as you might have discovered from my opening words on the 'Post-rock Movement' elsewhere in this issue) I think new ideas are still being explored by these artists, placing some old sounds into a new format, and some of this stuff is reflecting that same ethic. Definitely recommended.
LP4 is online at http://www.worshipguitars.org/faq/lp4.html and Fleece Records can be reached at P.O. Box 70012, Houston TX 77270, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. He's the contact for Dunlavy as well, not surprisingly.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson