Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe & Ariel Kalma FRKWYS Vol. 12: We Know Each Other Somehow

[RVNG Intl.; 2015]

Styles: raga-dro
Others: Lichens, Lieven Martens, Leafcutter John, La Monte Young

Before we delve into the raga-drone madness of Somehow We Know Each Other, let us meet our participants:

• Robert Aiki: née Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, formerly frontman for 90 Day Men, currently caretaker of Lichens, a solo project replete with mod-synth patches and voice.

• Ariel Kalma: World traveler, multi-instrumentalist, and experimental-music shaman being discovered by a fresh generation of listeners.

• RVNG Intl.: The label that makes FRKWYS happen; sage voice in the underground, fellow travelers, collaboration instigators, etc.

Now that you know the participants, allow me to present a track-by-track breakdown of the 12th volume of the FRKWYS series, another next-level grouping of out-sounders that threatens to surpass even the swirling synthotics of now-classic FRKWYS Vol. 7.

1. “Magick Creek”: I’m guessing a lot of reviewers will ride this river to the other side of the human mind and base their analysis on this track alone, both because it’s 17+ minutes long and because most reviewers are lazy press release-grubbing flunkies. I’m not going to do that, but I must admit “Magick Creek” sets the table aptly for the trippy, cyclical beauty of Somehow We Know Each Other, sounding almost like a flirtation between Lieven Martens Moana, a qualude-addled John Butcher, and Mudboy; either that or a slow roll down a calm body of water, scenic synths flourishing on either bank and a saxophonist holding court on-board. I must also ask: What’s the difference between a drone and a raga? Well, for one, Lowe and Kalma, to me, seem to be more on a raga tip, at least if Joep Bor’s take on them is correct (he called them a “tonal framework for composition and improvisation”). Then again, if this is the only definition, pretty much every drone could be considered a raga. Discuss.

2. “Mille Voix”: A sacred vocal chant forms the crust of “Mille Voix,” but the hardened tones underneath hold nearly as much power as they propel the crack choir heavenward, provided by clarinet and some sort of synth, I’m sure. The duo uses the shorter cut as a launching pad for what is to come, almost a theme song that has no verse, chorus, or hook. Or at least that’s how these waxy ears hear it.

3. “Gongmo Kalma Lowe”: For the record, I don’t know who’s banging on a rusty steel drum, sending rainbow-Skittles synths into the air, or programming those dramatic soundtrack-style arpeggiates straight out of Dark Side of the Moon’s “On the Run.” I just know that “Gongmo Kalma Lowe” is a transitional track that reveals the many varietals of what this impromptu duo can summon. A steady bass-only beat joins in and tolls like a bell, and those rainbow synths I mentioned turn into ribbons that slash across the sky like kite streamers. It’s beautiful, it’s provocative, it’s…

4. “Strange Dreams”: This is where Somehow takes an almost occidental path, perhaps for the first time on the record exploring what many in this day and age will hear as a solo-synth hydroponic system emerging from a complicated patch bay. A simple arpeggio keeps time while celestial keys straight out of that wonderful Paintings Of Windows lathe-cut (PseudoArcana Records outta NZ; check ‘em out) from last year provide the dressing like gauze to a wound. As “Strange Dreams” slumbers on, I almost get a Sung Tongs circa-its-dronier-tracks feel, what with the little gurgles and flourishes, but nah, I’m reaching. What we’ve got here, on my part, is a failure to elucidate. Please allow me to take another stab at it: Tonstartssbandht/Eola, with more of an instrumental presence. BANG.

5. “Wasp Happening”: To me, “Wasp Happening” is where shit gets real. Rather than dressing up drones or flirting with this and that, Kalma and Aiki, truly unified, double down and produce a raga cloud thicker than a weed brick thrown in a cosmic campfire. And that’s not it. About halfway through, the plot thickens like a hazy soup, swampy sounds croaking and the two lock minds like they’re both stuck inside the belly of a bulbous beast together. Don’t play this one if you have a suggestible cobra in your home, cage or no.

6. “Miracle Mile”: After the sting of “Wasp” we’re ready for more of a scenic trip, and “Miracle Mile” seems to have been conjured to provide just that. As the finale of Somehow We Know Each Other, it also ties up a few of the loose ends, dipping back into themes first presented during “Magick Creek” and offering a form of closure. Led by a steady 1-2-3-4 (sounds like a shaker to me), at least at first, Aiki and Kalma transport us to a tropical clime; regale us with simple, seductive backing; and allow more room for Kalma’s saxophone to explore the space. Several resets produce a dreamlike effect, wherein set pieces are replaced every few minutes with pieces from a few minutes before, and so on; and as the old and new elements mingle, the only reliable earworm is the programmed blips that snake through the entire track like a black mamba.

Rarely will you hear sax string together such an intriguing collection of shifts and dodges, and rarely will you hear such a unique, yet disciplined, take on the drone-raga platform, all-killer-no-filler despite the existence of three tracks over 15 minutes. Somehow We Know Each Other, over several listens, will convince you of the collaborative power of its participants and became a part of your daily cycle of thoughts like few albums you probably digest constantly in the age of info overload. If you don’t have the time to play all four shiny sides of the LP (not to mention the accompanying DVD Sunshine Soup, directed by Misha Hollenbach and Johann Rashid, a documentary based on the collaboration that I wasn’t able to delve into much, unfortunately, as I do not own a DVD player), don’t start, because you’ll be glued to the floor of your record room until it spins its eternal message into the ground.

Links: RVNG Intl.

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