Friday, October 23, 2009

White Rainbow - New Clouds

White Rainbow is Adam Forkner. New Clouds is the new White Rainbow disc, my first listen since Prism of the Eternal Now from 2007. Forkner then (and so far now) sent my head to places that could have been constructed by a child magician with the power to turn noises of play into authentic studio productions - the funny utterances that babies make with their mouths when they're learning to talk, or later, when they're older, the imitations of machinery, the discovery of onomatopoeia. Which isn't to say that this is a bunch of gross mouth farts, I don't quite know how to put it. Maybe if all those early expositions of the language center of the brain were played through a vocoder... . Anyway, this is music founded on drone, and rich like so many self-proclaimed "post-rock" bands, but it is a childish, playful music. It gets to some primal joy in play that only the most dedicated of musical/anthropological retrospectivists can achieve, but White Rainbow does this without sounding unconventional or even difficult (though I often hope for both of those).

Much of Forkner's musical package is electronic, maybe programmed. I don't know. When performers pile on so many mystery machines, I get lost. I like to understand what I'm hearing - understand what's producing it. This is my own personal hang-up that I hope to rid myself of so I can just enjoy the tones. Right now I shall decide to do that. And yes, I do enjoy these tones. This opening track is somewhat brooding, not dischordant, but a circular, un-resolving drone with layers of e-bowed guitar (I at least identified that) and loops of effected tones of some sort. A rhythm generator carries a faint, synthetic tom beat and shaker all the way through. Layer upon layer of alternating and converging blurs and hums come and go, subtly, almost invisibly. Forkner's voice is layered upon itself, singing incoherent harmonies and chants. I visualize the performance of ceremonial rites of the natives of the Moon.

Track Two. Gentle electric guitar strums fade in, a meandering melody and double picking, dancing around what I expect will be a drone. Ring modulated bongo drums sound like boots on the street. But this is leading to cosmic sensations, so this street may lead to or from that Moon ceremony that was just happening.

White Rainbow excels at surprisingly reinventing a seemingly exhausted idea. These early elements of the piece build into a rich, tension-laden chord, reverberating in outer space, but it doesn't just sit there. It gets richer and richer. New tones emerge, never too many, and the old, original elements fade into the background, a foundation built upon, but bypassed like buildings along the highway. Forkner's voice, again, is present just on the edge of all of this development, repeating and harmonizing, unnaturally, but not unpleasantly.

"All the Boogies in the World" fades in like a nightclub heard through ears stuffed with cotton. Or maybe as felt by some poor inebriated sap picking him/herself up off the floor of said club. Track title and rhythm both suggest that Forkner wishes to invoke dance, but the washes of synth and ever-present mumbling clarify that it is to be an international, or indeed an intergalactic dance party. Probably a dance party in which the dancers move very, very slowly, what with the lack of gravity and all. Floating on a moon dust dance floor, orbiting around one's partner. There are relatively heavy breaks of processed hand-drums and percussion that break up the residual washes, giving way to tremors of dirty, low-end synth arpeggios. These throttling pulses slowly yield to the soft sounds of wood flutes and gritty square waves, all of this to tease anticipation with rhythmic and jolting variations in the drone tone, soothing like a broken Commodore in an infinite process loop.

Forkner knows how to stretch resolution-defying chords in ways that compel your brain to just give up and ride along. You wait and wait for that key center, but it never comes, until finally you succumb and accept that the center is wherever Forkner wants it to be. Usually these moments of resignation come just before a new series of layers creeps in and disturbs the new-found peace, leaving your brain to sort it all out again in a fresh, unknown tonal world.

"Monday Boogies Forward Forever" rolls in like a sequel to its preceding track, heavy in bright walks across the fretboard, and with the strongest, brightest percussion yet. There is no single underlying drone here, but rather a shift between two tonal centers, major and minor, basically a two-chord progression. This gives your poor grey matter a bit of a rest, you can lean back and understand a bit more now. This is refreshing, like the resolution employed when one realizes he/she must go on even when things get terribly weird. But this also feels like a sunset to me, fitting for a final track, but not what I expected. I did not expect something so typically appropriate. The guitars are much more active, buzzy, warmly distorted, positive. And yet this becomes the least active track. The major/minor, resolute progression eventually melts into murky loops and infinite delays, but without the engaging variation of earlier moments. Perhaps Forkner has discarded his instrument(s) to kneel before the pedal board and stare, twist no knobs, make no moves. In any case, the pitch eventually thins, the noise ascends upward rather than fading out and the experience is over. You notice the silence, your own fluorescent lights, but if you've been paying attention, you're left a little confused.

New Clouds would be one to listen to a second time, if only to make more sense of it all. Like revisiting the scene of the previous night's fuzzy recollections. Who was I with? What did I say? But all of this is a sign of a good drone record, one in which time has passed unnoticed. The droners that can keep you occupied for twelve hours with you having only the daylight to suggest how much time has passed - those are the good ones.

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