Angelo Spencer Angelo Spencer et Les Hauts Sommets

[K; 2010]

Styles: surf-lite, raga-rock, indie
Others: Arrington de Dionyso, Karl Blau

If “What’s in the water in Olympia?” is not yet a music review cliché, I would like to officially register it. Arguably, the water is simply refreshing and clean, and so Olympia and the Olympians who dwell within have good reason to feel jubilant, alive, and unstunted by it. Now, there is also the issue of the weather. A true Olympian is conditioned by the damp tarp of Pacific Northwestern winter to more intensely feel the change of season. When the sun finally emerges, like a groundhog in the sky, the constituents of Oly-ville come crawling out of their burrows and molehills to rejoice in the village square, celebrating the coming of their beloved and elusive Sun God. This pagan festival of music and co-op tabbouleh, is marked by such a unique feeling. It is pure unrefined sunshine optimism, yet a nefarious beast and opportunist predator still lurks in the hallows of Oly-ville.

There is something to be said for the way that Angelo Spencer and his Olympian friends capture this endless summer feeling. It has been suggested that this record is not unlike a film with a Morricone soundtrack, but I’d argue more so a raga-rock Swan Lake. “Now!” this record’s exhibition could not be more exquisitely summer pastoral, twangy guitars rolling down the freshly thawed Alps, if you will. Dick Dale catches a wave of wildflowers behind them. But it would be unfair to pigeonhole this record as “surfy.” There is some stellar musicianship, but not overtly showy, and the twang is more Mark Mulcahy or Son Volt than Ventures. It all sounds very much like what I had imagined “raga-rock” was: these compositions/jams stretch out and contract, all the while dancing around stringy drones and tribal whomp. “Estonia” is a real foot-stomper and foreshadows the dangers ahead with decidedly more exotic tonalities.

Then, there is thunder, and the most Spaghetti Western-esque motifs appear. Our protagonist Oly-critters take shelter from the nefarious clouds in a dark wood, finding themselves staring face to face with The Big Bad Wolf, played by Arrington de Dionyso and his trusty bass clarinet. Under Angelo’s direction, Karl Blau and Clyde Petersen use deceitful dancing and guitar string to tie the wolf to an old pine stump. Once secured, the wolf is impressed with their Oly-ville ingenuity and promises they can all be friends. Angelo agrees, unties the beast, and together they rip into the album closer “Bo Diddley,” a gleeful muppetly romp through a glade as the summer storm gives way to the sun once again.

All in all, not a mind-blower, but this record is a great deal of fun and certainly does not outlive its welcome from start to finish. It is a swell development for the once one-man band, Spencer, though I do miss the presence of his exuberant vocals here. Sure, these rollicking instrumentals may seem humble and incidental at first, but strung together they are not devoid of adventure — that is to say, an early summer’s afternoon-sized adventure.

So what is it in Olympia’s water? You decide. I drank some and fell asleep listening to this record and had the strangest dream that I was writing a record review…

Links: Angelo Spencer - K

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