I review music (or so you tell me), meaning on some level it’s my job to quantify, define, and categorize that which shouldn’t be so easy to compartmentalize. So, the conundrum I occasionally stumble into is that sometimes the greatest compliment is being at a total loss for words. Understandable, right? If music could be so easily defined linguistically, the difference in artistic medium would be superficial. Yes, it’s an exaggeration and a trivial excuse for being overwhelmed by the task at hand, but that’s exactly how I feel about my petty little job when something like Spiritual Sci-Fi comes along. While that feeling of speechlessness is part of what I continually seek out in my listening, it’s a real bitch to write about.
So, that Kurt Weisman is an ambitious one, and while not playing the retro pastiche card in Feathers or with J. Mascis in the Dungeons & Dragons-prone Witch, he’s been busy working on something more idiomatic and less referentially obvious than the aforementioned pair. Perhaps “busy” sounds like an overstatement considering Spiritual Sci-Fi is 10 years in the making, but the meticulous craft that went into it is immediately apparent on first listen. And that’s about the only thing apparent on first listen; rather than tinkering with history, Weisman strives for innovation, and its result sounds successfully unfamiliar. As an outsider meddling in his or her universe, it’s not easy to immediately understand. But Spiritual Sci-Fi is surprisingly easygoing and never alienating, with Weisman miraculously avoiding the trap of being labeled pretentious without being given a fair shake. He treads a thin line between pure experimentalism and pop, but as challenging as Spiritual Sci-Fi may be, its exotic overtones are easy to warm up to in the process.
Weisman takes advantage of instrumentation and production trickery like no other, introducing new sounds at every possible moment. To complicate things further, he’s about as far as you can get from a verse/chorus kind of guy (but may very well be considered an avant-garde song-and-dance man). Rather, Weisman’s songs gently chug on and on, rarely repeating themselves and often disintegrating into controlled chaos. Taking these factors into account, there’s seemingly nothing keeping Spiritual Sci-Fi grounded. However, Weisman’s layered acoustic guitars and tweaked falsetto voice, even if suffocated by a veil of micromanaged textures, provide a couple of thru-lines to latch onto. While it’d be impossible to get familiar with every melodic twist and turn, not to mention the infinite production choices offered up on Spiritual Sci-Fi, each song has a memorable feel of its own, and the pieces come together to make an album with a deliberate sense of direction.
Whether it’s the drum circle spirit of “The Young Pioneers Discover Magic” or the ornate, baroque pop orchestrations within the title track, Weisman leaves no stone unturned in exploring his palette of sounds, and, superfluous to say, it all amounts to endlessly fascinating ear candy. Maybe Spiritual Sci-Fi’s weight among the world of experimental folk/psych won’t be equivalent to the longterm impact Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity had on jazz (and yes, I’m only lumping the two together because of their use of the word "spiritual"), but both artists’ music retains a certain modesty, albeit boisterous, never wearing their egos on their sleeve. It’s foolish to draw serious comparisons between the two, but in both cases there’s really only so much I, a music reviewer, can say. Now, that Mahalia Jackson, she can sing a spiritual!