Angelo Spencer World Garage

[K Records; 2011]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: psyche, surf, barefoot, worldly
Others: Popol Vuh, Arrington de Dionyso, Karl Blau

Angelo Spencer et les Hauts Sommets, World Garage

The world garage: in which we store our old itineraries and travel miscellany, our souvenirs and photos, our memories of sights and noises, and all the clutter we can pull together of the geographies that are always forming us after we leave them, again.

The high summits: we look out, having arrived and, having to descend, look back and walk.

World, or earth: Angelo Spencer defines his sound elsewhere: “Fuzzy, loose, echo, nerdy, desert, mountains, doug-fir, barefoot running.” Add Morocco and Algeria. Add Bollywood. Add the surf and the Alps. Add Olympia. Add a distorted theremin and Auto-Tune. Add the risk of accusation. Angelo Spencer runs the risk of ironic appropriation: of African rhythm, Arabian scale, etc. (Angelo’s shameless sincerity and joy keeps this from amounting to more than an accusation, however.) Angelo Spencer runs the risk of simply repeating himself — indeed, World Garage and his previous work share something sonically: a surf-drenched Popol Vuh playing Ennio Morricone on a mountain. In summer, yes? But there is more.

What we know: in 2010, Angelo Spencer and his then-collaborators toured through France and into Morocco. We know something in Spencer was altered there — in Morocco. He made a mix tape of inspirational songs from that place and others. He began forming his own songs within theirs. We see him, photographed on a new dessert summit, looking out. Those of us who weren’t there to hear or see in person may only guess what was going through him. So, guessing, we listen to what he gives us.

Who we know: World Garage brings together Karl Blau, Clyde Petersen, Ben Kapp, and Rebecca Redman. His well-chosen friends, his other high summits.

Words: “Tears of joy fall down my face. I swallow them and spit them back!” And, “Am I supposed to stand and stare?” He sings to us, “ancient future!” Angelo’s voice is more present than ever on World Garage. Louder, processed and manipulated, soulful, excited. “Am I supposed to run with shoes on?” Spencer’s words are unremarkable. They are quick, clumsy images carried through a voice that doesn’t need them. And yet, his voice makes them beckon.

Narrative: there is something totally dynamic about World Garage. There is something totally present about it, too. (While running barefoot, you still feel the earth.) It moves and it observes and keeps moving. It begins in Morocco. (Tangier, Tangier.) When Angelo begins there, when his surfing guitar rides up from the quiet and he begins singing, he is still at home, aesthetically. But having arrived, away from home, he looks around. He listens and calls forward into newness. World Garage is this call and response. So Angelo leaves himself — so many of us do when we travel. We carry our homesickness with us until something strange makes home out of somewhere else.

A-side: Spencer’s blend of surf and psyche and spaghetti-western from his previous work is more present here. And yet it finds itself intent, if not transfixed, on (trying) something new. We hear Angelo and his collaborators figuring out their way through new geographies of sound. His summits are pulled into new scales: African and Arabian. Rebecca Redman’s voice carries through them beautifully. The strong opening songs, “Tanger, Tanger” and “Transmission,” at once establish place and provide momentum. He asks (I think) his listeners for permission: “can I try something new?” All along, the musicians roll with and through each other. They stop momentarily. In “Le Marche,” we stand with them in a North African marketplace, strings pulling, and settle into the noise of it all. It’s a remarkably visual song. “3 Heures,” my favorite of the album, functions as the last transition between old and new, finally and warmly carrying a slow, surf riff through all Angelo has achieved off into a jangly quiet. With it, we are carried and carried and fall into steps, moving forward into somewhat less familiar territory.

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B-side: it begins, fittingly, with “Let You Down,” a bilingual call-and-response between Redman and Spencer. It is an immediate and forceful settlement into something new and less comfortable. Here are the tears of joy showing themselves. (Spit.) It is a strange transition, though perhaps, and more broadly, less so in light of Angelo’s work with Arrington de Dionyso. (Though not derivative of Malaikat dan Singa, etc., it’s hard not to make the comparison with World Garage.) If nothing else, it signals the end of certain inhibitions. Whether or not it works seems less interesting than the fact that it’s happening at all. (But does it work?) “Immune System Crashing Down” and “Dirty Blues,” under the influence of Blau (familiar vocal manipulations, Olympian-African rhythms), show Angelo at his most experimental and totally under the influence of new worlds. Ascending, World Garage culminates in “Le Haut Sommet,” a sign that from here on out, the summits of the Alps, the Pacific Northwest, of North Africa and elsewhere are one, unified ground upon which Angelo stands to look forward. The song climbs and climbs, through rolling drums. It calls out, having arrived at the summit, another summit, and a quiet chaos emerges. He looks out.

(Summits: it satisfies less as a climax than a prelude. By his own admission, Angelo wants to distance himself from the “indie rock” of his past. The B-side suggests that there is work to be done. Because World Garage is documenting the transformation itself and not the fully realized version of something new, fragmentation is to expected. And I’m happy to have access to his travel stories and his process. Autobiography, anyhow, is wildly and forgivably inconsistent.)

Gallop: what happens when you must go home? A wife, a child, chickens. “Gallop,” the album’s final song, descends, bringing us through into something we’ve heard before — Angelo is riding back into familiar aesthetic territory. And that is how it (almost) always is. We can’t stay forever.

World Garage: Angelo’s latest homecoming. The stories he brings back with him are almost always interesting and often exciting. And even when they’re less than remarkable and merely feeling their way through unknown territories, it’s still really fun. Mostly, however, they have me wanting to push him out the door again so that he can come back with more clutter for the world garage and a fuller realization of his vision.

Links: Angelo Spencer - K Records

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