Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound's "When Sweet Sleep Returned": Music Review

A San Francisco band with a mouthful for themselves and their newest CD title. They turn from the freakier Hawkwind-prog blend of their debut, "Ekranoplan," into what's been called more "Notorious Byrd Brothers" late-60s psych-folk. As that LP's on my top 20, I checked this group out after a friend played it and my ears perked up. It sounded in the background very early-70ish, and fans of the Dead (I'm not one, but I've tried) may admire some tracks, as well as those favoring a more muddy, dense, acidic (not alkaline) sound from this period.

The production makes this feel like it's coming from a garage down the street. Boxy, echoed, and processed, but it does not always stand up under closer than background listening. This is the group's limitation. Whether out of a lack of budget or a lo-fi aesthetic, the eight songs except for the rippling "Kolob Canyon" (the most Dead-like tune in a good way) and a pastoral "End Under Down" don't rise from the murk. This may be the Hawkwind influence, or AHISS's earlier musical legacy sticking to the record despite a move towards more quieter moods. (I also like early Hawkwind by the way, another reason I sought this record out; for the reviewer who wondered if AHISS resembled another band from The City, Wooden Shjips-- all of whose records I have reviewed-- they do, sort of, but AHISS seem less drony and more rambling, even if their songs, as with WS, tend often to be surprisingly short; this is only a forty-minute record.)

The best songs are the snappy "Two Birds" and the unfolding textures at a louder resolution on my favorite, the rapid yet hesitant patterns of "Drunken Leaves." The others don't leap out as much, but repeated listenings remind me of the later, less frantic, efforts from near-neighbors Comets on Fire. With a member credited on theremin & moog, this is a band that delights in updating a wonderful time for Bay Area and California coastal rock music, but they do need a stronger producer to bring out their potential. The woozy quality speaks of the forest, shadows, and mulch. But, some sunlight to pierce the dampness in these grooves could do wonders.(Posted to Amazon US 9-14-09)

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