Lichens Omns

[Kranky; 2007]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: modern psychedelia, improvisational guitar, experimental rock, outsider folk drone
Others: Om, Keiji Haino, Charalambides, The Doors

If stoner rock had used The Doors, rather than Black Sabbath, as an evolutionary starting point, there would probably be vastly more bands in the genre sounding similar to Lichens, the solo vehicle for Chicago-based guitarist Rob Lowe, whose previous gigs include co-fronting Chicago’s 90 Day Men. Omns, the second Lichens album, is a captivating illustration of contemporary psychedelia, abundant with spiritual undercurrents if not a flagrantly neo-hippie vibe — a vibe that is heavily reinforced by the album’s accompanying DVD, which includes a live solo performance from Lowe.

Lichens’ principal focus with regard to Omns is repetition and drone, with conventional melody and song structure playing secondary roles. Lowe’s voice resonates with elusively subtle electronic processing on several of these tracks, and he employs digital delay and multiple overdubs to enhance the potency of his chants, which consist mainly of glossolaliac vocals at the expense of discernible lyrics. The album’s first two pieces, “Vevor of Agassou” and “Faeries,” utilize this technique to fanciful, raga-like effect. Lowe himself seems to become enraptured by the intensity of the proceedings. The decision to package a live DVD with the compact disc was a wise move on Kranky’s part, as a viewing of the performance serves to contextualize these tracks somewhat. As studio recordings, however, some of these cuts have the tendency to lean toward self-indulgence (though, to be fair, this may in fact be the point).

Two pieces on Omns stand out in particular as highly memorable ones. “Bune” is a solo guitar piece redolent of the avant-garde, anti-blues cadences of Keiji Haino, the improvisational virtues of Loren Mazzacane Connors, and the calculated sloppiness of Neil Young. “M St r ng W tchcr ft L v ng n Sp r t” is a lengthy piece divided into two distinct sections, the first of which is positively stunning. This half features a series of skeletal, Krieger-esque guitar figures accompanied by a measure of haunting, low-key organ chords. The track’s opening passage, to this reviewer’s ears, recalls The Doors’ “The End,” with its eerie psychedelia and arty angularity. The piece’s coda, however, detracts from the composition’s overall effect, brimming as it is with bird songs and Lowe’s meandering vocal affectations.

Omns is something of an anomaly in how deftly Lowe is able to manipulate his extemporizations into such an oddly cohesive and compelling record. It may not ultimately elevate the listener to a higher consciousness, but it’s a relatively fun trip nonetheless.

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