Even from the grand view of music history that many of us oftentimes pretend we have access to, it’s hard to tell where all of this neo-psych-lo-fi-beach-scuzz is going. But one thing, I think, is certain: over the past few years, Not Not Fun has vigorously made the West Coast aesthetic mysterious and magical again. Their many heavy and beautifully packaged releases have successfully revealed the dark, haunting forces that lurk beneath what previously appeared to those of us in the East to be nothing more than some stoned kids eating tofu on a plastic-beach, while concurrently harnessing the sunnier aspects of the West’s pop-imaginary. There’s something religious about the sounds, particularly those of Sun Araw, who best represents the NNF spirit-seers and sound-explorers.
Sun Araw is Cameron Stallones, who also plays with Magic Lantern, Vibes, joined Pocahaunted for the recording of Passage, and most likely slangs grooves with some other NNF-related outfits. After previously seeing only a limited release, The Phynx got the LP reissue treatment earlier this year. The album starts its trek with the 15-minute opener “Fog Wheels.” The eerie drone sits underneath a faraway reverb-cloaked guitar, and when the beat drops around the two-minute mark, Stallones’ chanting blasts off praises to some strange gods. The fog-drone destroys visibility for a frightening moment, but opens up to let the pious chant ride the sun back in. The heat reclaims the throne in the last two minutes, pushing out the gloom with dense feedback wails and New Age nightmare-fuzz.
“Harken Sawshine” is the summertime anthem that would boom out from every boom-box in a Free World. The chirping bugs drift over a cool, nighttime, Japhy Ryder beach buzz with what sounds like waves crashing/singing in the back. A dirty cross-cut saw blues riff drives the sawshine, as Stallones continues to offer up cultic props to the return of Ra. With “Hive Burner” the heat intensifies into complete celebration with the clangs pushing deeper into the sun, unleashing a healthy onslaught of distorted vocal bliss. The long title-track closer commences with a heavy meditative drone surrounded by horror-show industrial screeches that eventually lead into a Barn Owl-esque guitar-trance and bell-grooved spiritual procession.
The Phynx seems much more evil than 2008’s Beach Head. While “Harken Sawshine” is surely a summertime favorite, Beach Head’s “Horse Steppin” literally gives the listener Ra-burn while also happily dripping tropical juices down from the speakers to ease the pain. Sun Araw stands out from the many others pursuing a similar aesthetic by finding interesting ways to harmonize these two dueling tendencies. Namely, Stallones succeeds in merging the bad-trip nightmare that permanently lingers just behind the sun. It will be exciting to see where he takes his sound with the upcoming release of Heavy Deeds.
1. Fog Wheels
2. Harken Sawshine
3. Hive Burner
4. The Phynx