Church of Hed - "Rivers of Asphalt"
(Eternity's Jest Records 2010 EJ0066)
From Aural Innovations #42 (May 2011)
"This is a musical travelogue down today's Route 66, told through a heady mix of prog, electronica and space", it says in the liner notes. (This also seems to be EJ's 66th release, and the album is 66 minutes long). To again quote the main Hed himself, Quarkspace's Paul Williams, "the wurly is the car that drives the album"... or something close to that. So from the outset, you'd better like the sound of the Wurlitzer e-piano and the main themes that it plays. Unlike the self-titled, there isn't actually much of what I'd call electronica on this album, at least not in the sense of programmed beats. The drums are all live, Paul's patented "clonk!" snare, throughout these moody pieces. Special guest Greg Kozlowski, guitarist extraordinaire for Architectural Metaphor, plays the axe on the bulk of the tracks, and some synth as well. Knowing that Greg can extract a diversity of noises from the six-string, it's not surprising that I often don't recognize guitar sounds on many of those tracks, or he's just playing very subtle well-blended lines. I'm surprised that Paul didn't segue these tunes, considering the concept, the continuity of the main themes and the brevity of many of the tracks. I love the spaced-out synthscapes on the latter part of "Open Road Illinois". "Meramec" is one of many ambient-electronic bits that interlude the main roads, though it probably wouldn't be appropriate to call it a "pit-stop". "Hooker Cut" starts out with a Kraftwerk-type keyboard sequence (hey, let's "fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn"!)... and here is some excellent fx'd lead-work from Kozlowski. Just about midway through the album (and just about midwest) is the Oklahoma "Prairie" suite, a set of ditties with their own "wurly" theme... "Prairie Vortex" gets into some pretty heavy prog and nice spaced effects. "Prairie River" is a happy place, flangey organ sounds and a cheery piano soloing on the high keys.
I confess that this album seemed like a bit of a gruelling trek at first. It just took a while for a lot of the special moments to come to my attention... still, though it may not be the album's intention, I think many will want to break these tracks down (or up) as the whole gets a bit samey in sound. Now entering New Mexico, "Glenrio" is one of those spaced-out ambient movements which uses a choral "ahhhhh" keyboard sound which Paul has been preferring for many years now. In Arizona we're hit with "Painted Desert and Mountain Sky", the classic busy quarkspace-y freaksound... e-piano, creepy flange loops, lotsa layers here. "Mojave"... yep, this sounds like Needles, CA... slow and plodding, you've got to keep moving... and the track is probably too long as well. It's not easy driving across the whole of this America, and "Arroyo Seco" sounds excited to be leaving the desert and rounding the bend. "Santa Monica Beach" is our terminus, and seems an appropriate closer with an upbeat and happier notes again... I like to think it's dusk now... Thanks for the ride.
For more info, visit: http://www.churchofhed.com/ and http://www.myspace.com/churchofhed
Reviewed by Chuck Rosenberg