Release Date: May 26, 2009
Record label: Southern Lord
Genre(s): Rock, Metal
During Shellac’s excellent track ‘The End Of Radio’, about the nature of recording and broadcasting electronically amplified rock music, there’s a line (when performed live at least) that goes something like this: “This microphone converts sound into electricity/which travels down this wire/which travels up a hill/and is broadcast out into space/Into motherfucking space!... Distant alien civilization/can you hear this snare drum?” As meta-explorations of sound production go, this is top notch but as with most things rock & roll, the instinctual works better than the intellectual. The physical out powers the philosophical.
"The emperor has no clothes," comes the cry from those who fail, quite reasonably, to be seduced by Sunn O)))'s doomy, droney studies in not playing the guitar much. However, if this album is a reply to those who say Seattle's kings of feedback are all style and no substance, then it's an incredibly effective one. From vocalist Atilla's thrilling guttural incantations on Big Church via the caveman-stomp riffing of Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia), and culminating in the gorgeous brass arrangements of Alice (featuring no less a talent than jazz trombonist Julian Priester), this is a hymn to the power of sound.
If all this sounds pretentious, think again about who we're talking about: the kings of wearing black hooded robes to perform. The set begins with "Aghartha," full of power drone low-tuned guitars, as one might expect. Slow and plodding for five and a half minutes, it pummels on until Csihar enters in a lower than low yet barely audible voice speaking a long poem about the creation of a new Earth.
“The album is not ‘SUNN O))) with strings’ or ‘metal meets orchestra’ material.” — excerpt from the press release for Monoliths & DimensionsThe music of duo Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, simply known by their typographically reverberating moniker, Sunn O))), appeals more as a concept than a casual listen. As their music has a tendency to crawl for upwards of fifteen to thirty minutes with nary a groove or a beat to latch onto. The blackened concentrations of aural tar that they conjure are meant for complete submergence and little else.
If your interest in Sunn O))) stems primarily from the band's patient employment of tone and time as channeled through electric bass, electric guitar, and stacks of amplifiers, you might hate "Alice", the brilliant closing track of its seventh and arguably best album, Monoliths & Dimensions. Sure, these 17 minutes are loud and torpid, easing from one note to another, distortion dripping from each new intonation. But "Alice" finds Sunn O))) exploiting a newfound spaciousness and elegance.
Experiencing one of Richard Serra’s massive steel sculptures in person can be revelatory. At first glance it can seem cold and imposing, its minimalism a stark contrast to the modern everyday life that skitters around it constantly, but once you investigate it much more closely, or in some cases, walk through the piece, the mood changes instantly. Our sense of space, time, and perspective are instantly altered: the monolith envelops instead of overwhelms, sound reverberates differently, you’re a few feet removed from the hustle-bustle outside yet you feel a thousand miles away from it all.
The ghost of free jazz hovers over the latest from O’Malley and Anderson. This isn’t new: there has always been a spiritual connection, and sometimes a sonic bond, between drone, stoner metal and the radical mystical improvs of Coltrane, Ayler, Ra, and so forth. Monoliths & Dimensions has many guest collaborators, including Oren Ambarchi, Dylan Carlson (Earth) and former Sun Ra’s Arkestra member Julius Priester.
Fans get a known quantity with each new Sunn O))) record. Bowel-rumbling, droning guitars that plod along like continental plates; the official duo of Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley accompanied by a rotating cast of guest stars; a dependable amount of experimentation in the recording process; and so on. .
When we last left SunnO)))’s Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley they were peering into the deepest pits of eternal darkness with 2005’s Black One. Not that they haven’t been busy since then. Quite the contrary, they’ve worked on collaborations, live albums, and side projects for the better part of the last four years since delivering the last proper SunnO))) studio full-length.
Oumou Sangare The voice of Oumou Sangare is a beacon — incandescent, steadfast and reassuring — throughout “Seya” (World Circuit/Nonesuch), her intensely spirited fifth album. Singing in the Wassoulou style of southern Mali, awake with fluttering digressions, she strikes a tone of moral authority and audacious uplift. Her accompaniment, a small army of musicians marshaled by the arranger-producer Cheikh Tidiane Seck, adds bright bustle without obscuring the purpose of the songs, which revisit poignant themes.
The meager band that 11 years ago began as an Earth tribute act has graduated to full-fledged “modern” composition with an increasingly eclectic aesthetic. Of course, Sunn 0)))’s huge drones are still present, but superimposed atop is a delicate web of fascinating signifiers, doubtless a product of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s collaboration with composer Eyvind Kang. Even the earsplitting guitar work that opens Monoliths and Dimensions speaks to new explorations; the first moments of “Aghartha” are basically in mono, coming from the center of the soundstage, which places the myriad feedback in sharp focus.