Oregon City refers to itself a the “end of the Oregon Trail”. Rightfully so, the former capital is the oldest settlement from the European migration west of the Mississippi River.
The Carnegie Library has stood on the block at 7th & John Adams Streets, mostly unchanged since its construction back in 1911. William Howard Taft was President. The Philadelphia Athletics beat the New York Giants in the World Series. Like many city green areas in early America, the wooded lot was originally covered in an impressive grove of elm trees that have since succumbed to disease. While the brick building remained a stunning example of early, 20th Century architecture, by the dawn of the 21st, it was no longer able to keep pace with a modern public’s demands.
On Saturday, October 15th 2016, amid a swirling wind and rain storm, a newly remodeled Carnegie Library opened to the public after decades of political wrangling, years of careful planning, and months of careful construction. City planners were meticulous in working toward two seemingly disparate goals: modernizing the library’s functionality while maintaining the original, antique small town feeling. Few city openings have come with such anticipation.
A look around the inside of the atrium offers a view of those intersections. A gorgeous metal sculpture hangs from the ceiling; east of computer banks, the brick rear wall of the original building offers reminders of the past; up a staircase, stacks of books, computers, and a series of state of the art AV meeting rooms. The main doors remain at the top of the familiar short staircase, giving way to what feels like the foyer to a grand palace of learning. Many writers have lauded the library’s place in a community, from Charles Bukowski to Susan Sontag. Jorge Luis Borges envisioned that paradise was “a kind of library”.
This is the kind of design that those writers were dreaming of. Oregon City, crown of the old territory, with a new jewel to brag about.
Where Sumac comes from hardly matters. I could write in here that they’re from Los Angeles, Edinburgh or the Outback outside of Sydney, the location would not change the fact that the band sounds as though they have all been dredged up from the bottom of a turgid, industrial puddle.
Sumac’s Profound Lore debut, The Deal is, in just single word, brutal. But brutal in the best way, how something guttural and violent can deeply move your emotions. Sumac (named for a red flowering, medicinal plant) taken as a proper new band is somewhat misleading though; the players are comprised of former members of Isis, Baptists and Russian Circles, a nice blend of influences with a smashing end result.
I’ve written openly about my enthusiasm for experimentation and unconventional song craft in the heavy music sphere, but The Deal edges above its contemporaries. Opening with “Spectral Gold” a frightening upward tonal spiral it crashes back into “Thorn In The Lion’s Paw” which thrashes about with a violent, schizophrenic undertone. The guitars don’t churn so much as shudder with extreme tension. The vocals are delivered in death growl, set in a barely audible place in the already thick mix, perhaps only there as a reminder of each song’s human menace.
What makes The Deal stand out for me is how Sumac utilizes the open space in the mix for enhancing the dark mood. Songs tend to build slowly, assemble into their manic framework, only to fall off a cliff into a harrowing void. No one writes a song as versatile as “Hollow King”, mainly constructed as death metal, yet spreading a mess of jam band and psychedelic rock inflection all over. Sumac songs build into wonderfully rotten edifices, huge guitars and stormy percussive beats only to be crushed with gleeful intimidation. Their album is a little like watching a large, clumsy child carefully construct a magnificent sandcastle on a rainy, bleak beach day only to bat it down with his bare paw.
My introduction to legendary Swedish psychedelic rock band Dungen came very late, unfortunately. More than ten years after the fact, I was brought in on the gorgeous secrets of aural psychedelics like Ta det lungt and others in their catalog.
Featuring Reine Fiske from Dungen, The Amazing’s third album Picture You offers an evocative collection of original tracks, like Pink Floyd meeting with Nick Drake on the far rings of Saturn. Too much? Almost every song feels that type of cosmic openness, stretching out from needle drop, the vocals, spectral guitars and teardrop keys fading in and out of an unfathomable negative space. The Amazing deftly craft music that isn’t afraid to take it’s time, their songs filling the room with a rare type of air.
As much as I enjoyed Picture You though, this is an album that’s hard for me to evaluate. My connection to one of the original bands is far too new and too awe inspired to view a spin-off with the necessary objectivity (for the record another member of The Amazing, Christoffer Grunup, plays with Granada). There are absolutely scrumptious moments all over,specifically the title track and the languid “Circles” but I’m stuck with how to view it as a whole.
This feels like some of the best moments of Dungenbut it lacks a certain otherness that made their albums special.
On the state side of the big pond, The Monochrome Set’s output might be relegated to the obscure end of the rack. The English new-wave band has had a successful, if not sporadic, run since forming in 1978 though and in spite of a few break-ups, they’ve produced eleven albums and been included on a basketful of singles and compilation albums.
Now cue the anticipatory drumroll: they’re releasing album number twelve, Spaces Everywhere. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Bid is back with a new ensemble of musicians, as is his characteristic bouncy and melancholy croon. Songs like “Fantasy Creatures” and “Z Train” are so diabolically catchy, they affect a listener like an ear worms, winding further in with each chord. The Monochrome Set’s sound is clean, guitars free of distortion with clear influences written all over, from 60’s California, psychedelic rock bands like Love to the raw, artsy edged new wave scene that bore them almost thirty years ago. To those new to the band, Adam and The Ants to the Television Personalities will come to mind. Almost every song on Spaces Everywhere could stand out as a proper single, they’re simply that delightful
Enigmatic lead singer Bid says that the best place to listen to Spaces Everywhere is “in a deconsecrated church without a mirror” and to find out what that means, check out the Monochrome Set at their website.
emertzThree Album Reviews — Sumac, The Amazing, The Monochrome Set