Sometimes the provenance of an album can be as interesting and absorbing as the music itself. Such is the case with the debut full-length from Chicago’s Ga’an. First released as a limited-edition cassette in 2009, the two-year gap between its initial scarce run and this proper LP has to do with some Behind the Music-style melodrama, albeit at a much more granular level. These sorts of grand narratives that add to an album’s mystique are almost always rockist in nature, pivoting on tropes like a bloated recording process; the clashing of eccentric, headstrong personalities; and, always, some amount of sex and drugs. But whether an epic spat between members of Van Halen or an anonymous squabble amongst a tape scene band, at the heart of these stories lies the inherent difficulty of realizing a creative vision, especially among a group of people.
The mythology behind this band and this album was revealed to me after attempting to track down the cassette. After first being floored by a live recording of Ga’an on East Village Radio’s stellar show, Radio Heart, I followed a trail of broken links, inactive torrents, and solemn tears for quite a while before finally procuring (digitally, at least) Ga’an’s ever-elusive debut. While on the hunt, I ran across quite a bit of message board drama that had to do with warring camps within the band struggling to see who would claim the name Ga’an. Subsequent investigation revealed that the band’s bassist at the time had a violent altercation with other band members during the course of a show, and a deep rift was born, which included all sorts of shenanigans, some more serious and ill-advised than others, including false rumors being spread and much of the group being locked out of their Myspace account as “Ronald Reagan” was added as an official member of the band.
So, all obstacles having officially been cleared, Ga’an’s debut full-length is here and widely available for mass consumption, no treasure hunts required of you, the potential listener. At the time of the recording, Ga’an consisted of Lindsay Powell (vocals), Seth Sher (drums), Jason Sublette (bass/keys), and Jeremiah Fisher (keys). Of this lineup, only Powell and Sher remain with the band today. If you’ve been lucky enough to have been exposed to Powell’s gale-force voice when performing as Fielded (a project that falls somewhere between Björk and Glasser in being both mystical and vocally-propelled) or Sher’s athletic drumming and programming skills in his Legowelt-meets-Trans Am solo form, Psychic Steel, then you know the talent inherent in this band. Considering that this is just now seeing the light of day two years after its inception, it’s interesting to note how the talents of these two have obviously blossomed.
But Ga’an isn’t only noteworthy because it’s a portrait of a very talented band in chrysalis. The most striking aspect of Ga’an on this record is the sheer impenetrability of their sound. This is extremely viscous, opaque music. Over the course of 40-odd minutes, the band never blinks, song after song unfolding seamlessly as in a live set, like a particularly ominous storm rolling across the landscape. “Chasmaeon” begins with a gust of Benedictine vocal tones and icy keys before the rest of the band joins in with a loping, syncopated lockstep that ultimately gives way to Sublette and Sher’s thunderous, cascading rhythms and Powell’s otherworldly invocations. The “I of Infinite Forms” set of songs gallop like the Valkryie, stampeding along with little regard for the unfortunate mortals caught in the wake. “I of Infinite Forms 2” especially impresses with its Terminator-like synth lines, apocalyptic bells, and rapid-fire drumming, somehow managing to be both heavy and nimble.
There’s an overriding authentic feeling to this recording, and it could easily pass as having been recently unearthed from some derelict barn. “Servant Eye” — and, for that matter, all of the pieces here — sounds as contemporary as it does classic, just as likely to be from 2009 Chicago as from a rural Western European commune circa the early- to mid-1970s. The togetherness of the band is amazing considering the tensions that later arose, and, if you listen with this in mind, you can almost hear them contracting, pulling apart, and constantly rejoining, like a dark, undulating, liquid mass.
It’s a minor miracle that Ga’an’s self-titled debut has finally surfaced and is now much more widely available than it was initially as a little-known, mercilessly limited cassette. Their mythology is firmly entrenched for those who have followed their story thus far, and it’s a tale that reflects a triumph of the innate will to create. Despite navigating a fog of in-fighting and a path littered with pitfalls that have swallowed many a promising band, Ga’an perseveres, having performed with the legendary and similarly mighty Sleep, and armed with an album of brand new material imminent for release in the spring. Considering the long and winding journey that this album and this band have undergone just for the chance that it might be appreciated, I urge you to get yourself a copy and witness them live whenever you have the chance.