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Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Azusa Plane - 'Tycho Magnetic Anomaly and the Full Consciousness of Hidden Harmony' (Camera Obscura)

There was a time in the mid-to-late 90s that the city of Philadelphia rose up from a beer and sports-fueled haze and began embracing cosmic sounds, rooted no doubt in the city's antecedents (Rundgren?) and some of the under-recognised pre-current that was happening there. Or maybe not - maybe this is just some shithead narrative grafted onto Philly by some desperate music critics at the time - anyone remember the awful term 'Psychedelphia'? But there appeared to be a definite momentum, at least to me, an outsider; and of these bands, many of whom have been forgotten, the Azusa Plane were an example of the most 'pure' and commited to the ur-drone, shredding any vestigal rock and roll in favor of Terry Riley's harmonic sunpulse. I know they put out a few records in their day but this one, their first (I believe), is the only one that ever really grabbed me. Here's an hour of guitar-based psychedelic music: slow unfolding drones, delicate tension, and subtle pulses. Of the four tracks, it's the last one that distinguishes itself the most (through steady repetition and a nice warm fuzz). Liner notes give you silly Germanic cosmicspeak for each track but I don't get much from that. This beat the rush of drone that came from the American underground - beat it by about a decade, but is it distinguishable? Back in '99 music like this sounded really exciting, like it had some vision and attitude and some higher calling. (At least to me - I was a young 'un!) But now I think about Satie and LaMonte and the VU and Heldon and Ash Ra and the Azusa Plane, and I try to find a place for all of this alongside, I dunno, a zillion tapes by Emeralds-related projects? Sometimes I just can't feel, like Lou Reed after his parentally-imposed anti-homo shock treatment; when I listen to this I try to sink into it, but I can't lose myself. Distractions, distractions. The one thought that I keep returning to is how similar these guitar bleats are to the sound of Lilys' Eccsame the Photon Band, as if 'High Writer at Home' is about to come bursting out of these tracks. Same city and maybe the same personnel or studio or equipment - is this the sound of Philly I hear, an aural cheese steak (or replace with vegetarian stereotype)? I think the main guy behind this band died under sad and mysterious circumstances. Or was he the entire band? This sounds suspiciously like a dense, one-man project. Nice art though (and kudos for thanking Corpus Hermeticum for inspiring it, though the use of System 7 "Chicago" font for that inner panel kinda wrecks the medieval theme.

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