Cloudland Canyon An Arabesque

[Medical; 2016]

Styles: motorik, shoegaze, minimalist rock, disco
Others: Silver Apples, Peaking Lights, Harmonia

The thing about futurism is that, eventually, it gets overtaken by the future itself. Futurist ideas are total war, aiming to scorch everything behind them. But they can’t burn down the future, and we inevitably have to look back on these ideas and decide what we want to do with them. 20th-century music is a story of lots of these annihilating ideas; one of them in particular was hammered out in Berlin in the early 1970s by a group of young artists who had the idea of dismantling rock & roll. So what do you call it when, 45 years into the future that those artists raced to create, someone takes a sound originally meant to slice everything open and makes something sweet out of it?

On An Arabesque, it sounds like a prayer. Kip Uhlhorn has been recreating (and pastiche-ing) “Krautrock” sounds since Cloudland Canyon’s first album 10 years ago. But here, Uhlhorn and his wife Kelly, now a permanent member, appropriate this futurism in a way that is not only comfortable, but also mantric. This go-round, he’s doing it without longtime cohort Simon Wojan, but with collaborators like former Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, experimental electronic artist M. Geddes Gengras, producer Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember, and former Big Star/Alex Chilton associates Lesa Alridge, Jody Stephens, and Ross Johnson, among others.

The act here is not cultural destruction but psychic realignment. An Arabesque is a significant departure for Cloudland Canyon, in that it’s more like a collection of songs than suites. But these are songs with no center, where the heart throbs in the foot and the lungs are where the ears should be. The album’s title track is a cascade, starting with a syllabic rush of voice, then a call and response where the words intermingle rather than converse — a watery electronic drone, a flood of sax. “Rebuilding Capture,” with its pummeling rhythm and New Age synth, is like surfing on top of a train on a sunny day — you’re gliding, but you’re conscious of the tightening of your heart, the beating of your muscles, the fact that everything could fall apart in a second. It’s a system that acknowledges the noise of the everyday and revels in its own ability to find a precarious balance.

Mostly, the words on the record are indecipherable, but sometimes they are decipherable yet still slip away, like when, on the churning “Faulting Fate,” the phrase “work under pressure” is repeated until it sounds something like “work on depression” and then “where can we push her?” The effect is like a chant, a form where intention is turned into feeling, unlike a song where the priorities are the other way around. Even the musicians themselves melt into each other; the aforementioned list of collaborators is really, in effect, a novelty. Who’s singing — is it Alridge? Johnson? Uhlhorn? No one’s contributions are really identifiable except, perhaps, Kember’s, who has helped Panda Bear build obscure brutalist melodic edifices similar to the ones Uhlhorn builds here. Rhythms vary from the dull boom of “Psychic Insistant” to the near-disco of “Faulting Fate,” each evoking trance.

If Uhlhorn’s arabesque of techniques — the ticking motorik, the wash of shoegaze, the pulse of techno — nod specifically to musical revolutions of the past, his own revolutionary act is that he delivers a kind of meditativeness in a music whose center has been destroyed. Meaning flows out from all sides and all sounds. The underlying structure resembles pop at its most bare bones, but we’re left only with its contours, its comforts. We find community in its anonymity and balance in its unwavering meter. An Arabesque is, in a sense, an act of finding comfort in anachronism, soothing in a creative act once meant to destroy.

Links: Cloudland Canyon - Medical

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