The best of 2012 - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #145

Not to compare myself to the great high priest of Egypt, Pihkal, whose machinations behind the true Pharaoh’s throne represent the first known case of political corruption and who was buried alive beneath miles of sand surrounded by all the imaginable earthly treasures he could never possess in his cursed afterlife; but generally once I have fully absorbed the meaning of a discarded work of underground genius I tend to discard it (I usually write the article at this time). Even world-rocking head-melters by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and Goat fall by the wayside shortly after I feel compelled to constitute my rippling tendons of opinion into one long fine textual flash. I search endlessly for new sonic planes, not simply new to me but new to the world. We are all one dude, there is a tenuous and undetectable psychic connection that binds all mankind together and once something is absorbed, it becomes much easier to connect with that information. I read once of an experiment where isolated individuals were made to perform crossword puzzles and their ability monitored. At one point they were given a crossword from the previous day’s newspaper (which had been seen and completed by millions of individuals), and their speed increased 30%. We are all connected. Once knowledge can be uploaded to human cloud memory, it becomes much easier to access. I continually probe the ultra-new to discover trips new to all of mankind. I consider myself an intrepid psychonaut. As such, one something has been in my head-space for a few weeks, I tend to let it drift into obscurity in search of new trips to momentarily satiate my desire for new. There are several albums on regular rotation even after years in mine and the public unconsciousness because their constant meditative genius has become not only essential to my continued mental integrity, but by cardiovascular wellbeing as well. This wretched year of our (Jon) Lord has seen a notable addition to that tiny canon in the form of Bad Liquor Pond’s sublime Blue Smoke Orange Sky. An album which remains new by virtue of its oceanic depth and closely guarded secrets.

Bad Liquor Pond at Hampdenfest 2010
Most crucially, the rhythm of Blue Smoke Orange Sky imposes a rhythm on your life, which isn’t the exhausting tempo on my own life. It’s a gently insistent album. The grooves are strong, but slow. There is a relaxed Sunday-afternoon haze over the whole record, and everything Bad Liquor Pond do. There is a meditative quality infused into everything; the temperate inhale-exhale beat. Less of a one-two straightahead album and much closer in tone and feeling and delivery to a breath exhaled from the earth, the growling in the hearth. It has proved itself a tome of great meditative usefulness. Their heavy devotion to psyche dogma, coupled with a restraint even in the face of the drug requirements of their psychegaze not seen since the Doors, makes this album musically impressive, even outside of the supreme spiritual wholesomeness it inspires. There is also an element of living with a record. Allowing it to seep into your ears. Getting to know it, on bad days as well as good. Hearing it, but also seeing it, feeling it, breathing it in. Thinking about it throughout days and weeks and months until it runs in your blood. Blue Smoke Orange Sky was released in January and I got it on day of release. Ever since then I’ve been letting it in, little by little.


Stoner caravan from deep space arrives.

And in talking of mediatative usefulness and the extremes of the sonic spectrum. No true overview of the darkest burblings of the underground would be complete without a sustained session of Sleep’s Dopesmoker, re-released for 2012, remastered by Bard Bortright, over and above even the Tee Pee Records release, which has until now been the staple expression closest to the vision of Sleep’s Dopesmoker. The current magnum opus of the Dopesmoker odyssey, overseen by Billy Anderson and Sleep and released properly in full version in triumphant gatefold artefact and limited edition picturedisk with superb cover art by Arik Moonhawk Roper. It is well known that all members of Sleep intended Dopesmoker to be more than just an album, more than just a song. It was the definite final expression of an entire lifestyle and belief system they helped create. Crucially the lyrics deify and canonise far more than they tell stories. According to all members of the band, the record has never been released in its true form, and never recorded in that form. Like all fine ideas, once the time comes to come back to earth and back to land and condense hundreds of hours of discussion and imagination into a single hour-long expression, something of the purity of that dreamtime is lost. The violences of mock-shock and amazement at what Sleep assembled didn’t help, only after almost 15 years of trying has the truest yet (by no means true, according to those in the know, no true version will ever be successfully completed) has been released as the most right-on rock and roll artefact of the year and a must-have for those interested in the ongoing Dopesmoker saga, and for those keen on rock and roll memorabilia.

Sleep in Spain 2012
Conceived, and performed to try to replicate for the audience the meditative trancelike state the musicians entered while playing; the new remaster is sharper, Matt Pike’s buzzsaw guitar is given appropriate footing, and Al Cisneros’ bass sounds like rolling thunder in the jungle, emphasising the total percussiveness of the record, as each element is percussion, even the guitars and vocals are led by the drums. It isn’t even heavy metal. Constant references to Israel and Zion as well as Creedsmen and Hashishian point to almost reggge-like vocal iterations. People (including me) have called it Sabbathian, but really that refers to their tools rather than the effect. It’s tracelike, ritualistic, solipsistic, atavistic, it’s no wonder Al and Chris’s second motion was called OM, with lyrics uttered in monotone along the lines of “Drrrrrrrop ouuuuuuuut of liiiiiiiiiife with bonnnnnnnnng in haaaaaaaaaaaaaand/followwwwwwwww the smmmmmmooke to the rifffffffffffffffffff fffffilled lannnnnnnnnndddd” it lines up as one of the great vocals, along with Silencer’s “Leap from life” and Ramesses (themselves pure Sabbathite monks who’ve heard plenty of Sleep in their time) “Step into the white light/step into suicide”. The percussion becomes the breath of meditation. The focus, the locus. I had the very great honour of seeing Sleep in their reincarnated form play their first ever Glasgow show this year, and give us twenty minutes of Dopesmoker… True to form the sense of time passing outside of that room entirely evaporated, and we were held in Dopesmoker’s (and Sleep’s) vicelike grip. If you want rock artefacts, quickly avail yersel of a very limited picture disk, but if you’re interested only in the song, go forth and purchase the CD for preference. The artwork is still gatefold and magnificent, although put through the wringer a little with the smaller format, but the double LP needs changed every fifteen minutes, breaking the flow of the song. The Dopesmoker legacy continues, the Sleep dynasty refuses to die.

Written under duress by Steven.

Post script: The reissue CD has banished the non-album live artefact Sonic Titan (a sad choice, but it is still available as a little Sleep treat) and replaced it with an utterly superfluous rendition of Holy Mountain c.1995 which can be entirely discarded.

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