Release Date: Jan 28, 2014
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, International
With the phrase "Do not listen to this record unless you are in an altered state" appearing above the track list, Guardian Alien fully embrace the spirit of psychedelic rock on their second album, Spiritual Emergency. Where their Thrill Jockey debut, 2012's See the World Given to a One Love Entity, threw listeners directly into the deep end of the sensory deprivation chamber, this album finds the experimental ensemble taking a more drawn-out approach. The album's opener, "Tranquilizer," feels like that exactly, as it lulls the listener into a dissociative state with its glitched-out vocals and hypnotic percussion creating a rhythm that seems to exist without a beginning or an end.
Psychedelia. Once it was radical; now it’s more or less everything it ever hated. That is, it likes to present itself as some revelatory breach into the uncharted and the unconventional, when in all too many cases its signatures are as rigidly conformist and fossilized as a military band’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.
At last, Greg Fox might’ve drummed himself past parenthetical suffixation. For the last two years, the wildly prolific Fox has worked with a dozen projects, from his own electronic rampages as GDFX to the spirited explorations of the improvisation-and-academia sublimation squad Zs. There’ve been stints with the drum militia Man Forever and the arid punk band Cy Dune, treks with garage weirdos PC Worship and sets with stylistic jester C.
It’s a safe bet that a group led by its drummer, as Guardian Alien are, won’t be given to commonly understood notions of top-down meat’n’spuds rock. Greg Fox, a New York-based titan of big-brained avant-garde percussion, ensures this as he leads the multi-directional dazzle of ‘Spiritual Emergency’, their third album. Shamelessly self-indulgent, you imagine their aim is to jam themselves into a sonic trance as much as the listener: Fox, presumably cross-legged, opens the album on tablas (‘Tranquilizer’) before his equal-parts-gonzo-and-disciplined style takes hold as GA lock into freak mode.
The role of the drummer often entails laying a barely visible framework, a structure from which the flashier instruments can project to the rafters. Sure, connoisseurs and other drummers will pick out the exceptional work of certain stick-wielders, and the occasional fill or solo will elicit yowls from the crowd, but who knows who the drummer was on the vast majority of Billboard-charting tracks (or even if there was a drummer)? Greg Fox is not a drummer to fade into the background. In Liturgy, his “burst beat” was an essential element of the transcendental black metal espoused by Hunter Hunt-Hendrix.
Guardian Alien, led by drummer Greg Fox, makes music that is difficult to categorize, though perhaps not to understand. Its effects, and impact, are visceral, its odd parts hitting with a power familiar to all big, audacious music. And yet, on Spiritual Emergency that power is also about carving out space. There are a series of improvised pieces that make up the first half of the record that cut into negative space in different ways.
Guardian Alien Spiritual Emergency (Thrill Jockey) Despite the esoteric nature of this post-rock/free jazz hybrid, Greg Fox's voracious percussion acumen springboards it far beyond late-night head noise. Even as passages of Guardian Alien's second LP fall apart, the Brooklynites' vision keeps the experiment from driving into tangential cul-de-sacs. Opening salvo "Tranquilizer" combines resonant tabla runs with cut-up vocal loops and slippery, underwater bass, and the side-long title track crackles to life with sped-up TV news-style synthesizer providing a backdrop to transpersonal psychologist Stanislav Grof explaining why hallucinations shouldn't be dismissed out of hand as pathological.
Guardian Alien — Spiritual Emergency (Thrill Jockey)Guardian Alien’s follow-up to 2012’s See the World Given to a One Love Entity turns from psychedelia towards free-form jazz. Led by drummer Greg Fox, the ensemble also features Alexandra Drewchin’s vocals and electronics. As before, guitars by Bernard Gann still fuzz and buzz, and Eli Winograd’s bass keeps the extended jams on-track, while Turner Williams’ shahai baaja can be harder to pinpoint.
The language of drums is one that's all too often been utilised for mere fireworks, relegated and ignored as a more communicative tool, and little more than mere metronomes. Explorations into communicative percussion have tended to meander down the realm of monotony (Rhys Chatham's Two Gongs) or ethnic cliche (the Rhythm Devils' Apocalypse Now Sessions), with perhaps Han Bennink's madman clatter and the late Rashied Ali's panrhythmic onslaught springing to mind as two of the finest examples of percussion telling more than simply the time. Away from the world of jazz, black metal has perhaps facilitated the most testing and revolutionary approach to the instrument, asking guitarists to pick and drummers beat at a pace essentially outside of the spectrum of human possibility, leading to an imprecise flurry of angered, hummingbird's wings facsimiles of rhythm.