It seems appropriate that this double album by Colin Langenus has appeared on the hip new indie label Northern Spy. Spy’s first release, in late 2010, was R.I.P., the final album by Langenus’s former band USAISAMONSTER, a brilliantly realized hello/goodbye from a group that had forged an underground career from stoned psychedelic rock, experimental jamming, and Native American mythology. With its twisting time signatures and songs about Grey Owl and Ranald MacDonald, R.I.P. was a suitably bizarre send-off for USAIAM and a great opening to a new chapter.
Langenus, currently performing under the banner of Colin L. Orchestra, has chosen to fill his part of that chapter not with brand new material, but rather with songs he has been working on for several years alongside his other projects. The genesis and recording methods of the material, as detailed in the CD liner, involved Langenus and a shifting set of collaborators laying down tracks that were then worked on (overdubs, mixing) by the artist over a period of three years. Two albums were conceived, one of long, slow pieces “with lots of guitar solos” (Infinite Ease), the other of shorter, country/bluesy rockers (Good God). It seems that plans changed somewhere along the line, but we still have two discs that can more or less be split between long, slow burners and quicker, rootsy blasts. And there are still lots of guitar solos.
Langenus says that he “wanted to make simple, comfortable music,” with country and folk being obvious choices: “music my dad would like.” It’s country alright, but country by way of Neil Young and Southern rock, with moments that recall the psychedelic Americana of Grateful Dead, the desert blues of Giant Sand, and the alt.country sounds of the 1990s. On IE’s opening number, the brilliant, woozy “You Need Sleep,” rippling layers of guitar and lap steel unfold from each other like a rootsy take on the current synthwave scene, washes of sound alternating with melodic figures to blissful, narcotic effect. The disc’s title is perfect; like New Age synth work or the laidest back, American Beauty-era Dead, there’s a sense of infinite ease, a lack of anxiety over teleology, jamming as communal activity, musicking as process over music as product.
In another live-Dead-like strategy, Langenus has mixed the first album so that each track bleeds into the next, emphasizing the notion of infinite-ease/infinities, the ongoing process/mix/broadcast. Infinity is manifest in other ways too, for example in the way that “You Sleep Well” abandons song form after a couple of minutes and settles into a seemingly endless loop of lap-steelery, an over-fetishized, extended country cruise that recalls the slow-burning blues of Lucinda Williams’s most sublime work (think Essence and West). A zen-y calm pervades a number of the songs here, especially “Hold Tite,” nine minutes of angel-voiced, hippie country mysticism. The main reference here is Neil Young, the delicate almost-not-there Young of “Will to Love,” “Danger Bird,” or “Round and Round.” But, just as Langenus can be Deader-than Dead, so can he be Younger-than-Young; I searched in vain through my Young records to find the track I thought “Hold Tite” recalled. And, just like a song that wasn’t there, “Hold Tite” seems to dissolve away from earshot on several occasions, only to keep returning as fetish object, a beautiful moment of bliss that can’t be left alone. The guitars sparkle on this one, sending off mini sunshowers. The even longer “Best Thing” has similar effects, albeit building itself on the bleached bones of 70s Southern rock rather than Young’s fireside filigrees.
Good God, the second disc of the set, follows a similar Young/Skynyrd dialectic, though the Young references are closer to the bar blues of Crazy Horse’s more pedestrian moments. Shorn of the blissed-out extensions of the Infinite Ease tracks, this disc comes across as more chuggingly predictable. Jonah Rapino’s fine fiddling rescues “Paradise” and “Lose My Heart,” edging them closer to cowpunk hoedowns, while electric guitar interventions lend momentary excitement to “Need to Know.” Other than that, the standout tracks on this disc are “Socialite,” with its high, swooping vocal and Youngian guitar fuzz; “Doom,” with its closing Dead-ly harmonies; and, above all, the beautifully-arranged “Dreams My Only Friend,” which — with its high, lonesome wails, rock-gospel acoustic guitar strums, and sustained electric geetar — would probably have fit better on Infinite Ease but serves as a timely reminder of what’s best about the Colin L. project.
This is a past-summoning pair of albums that still manages to sound relevant due to its lack of anxiety about the role of jamming in 2011, its general good-time feel, its occasional strange similarity to the past-obsessed synth scene, and a general sense of ease with the world.