Sunday, 14 March 2010

Black Sun Ensemble (Camera Obscura)

Guitar Jesus comes to life in this debut release, reissued in the 90s with some bonus tracks and resequencing from the original mid-80s private press. Black Sun Ensemble occupy a unique, sun-drenched southwestern band of instrumental psychedelia. They're confident enough in Guitar Jesus's licks that there's little need for effects, studio fuckery or vocals. What this really is about is the guitar playing, and some of the songs are fairly improvised over a rhythm section that locks into similar chord progressions and patterns on every song. The end result is a patchwork of blistering electric guitar solos, glistening hollow-body/12-string blankets, and tunes that all kinda sound the same. The liner notes subtitle each track with descriptions like 'Wacko guitar solo', 'Improvisation in C scale', 'Blues in B Minor' etc. but somehow it all melts into a unified whole. I bought this when it came out after reading a review that praised it as first-rate psychedelia, but at the time I thought all psychedelia had to be insanely exaggerated mind-bends or maximallist pop like Mercury Rev or something -- I found this kinda downbeat, not disappointing per se, but not what I expected either. But I still liked it because I was also going through my Fahey/Americana-guitar phase, and I realised that this was a record to bridge the two schools. Guitar Jesus knows he's the star and he's mixed so far up that everything else sounds like an afterthought. If there's one criticism it is that the Black Sun Ensemble defined their sound too much, because the weird strum-pattern is so similar from track to track that it feels almost limiting. I know they made later records and I think still exist to this day (though Guitar Jesus is the only one remaining) so maybe they branched out since this was recorded (which was 1985). Much of the 'success' of this CD, to these ears, is owed to the early 80's DIY recording quality. You're really in the room with these guys, yet it still somehow captures the 'Dove of the Desert' feel (to borrow a phrase from track 5). There's something 'inside' about this psychedelia and it's a great mood-setter in the midst of a long winter. Liner notes by Byron Coley!

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