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Subarachnoid Space - Also Rising

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Artist: Subarachnoid Space

Album: Also Rising

Label: Strange Attractors Audio House

Review date: Apr. 10, 2003

Already Risen

Also Rising marks the seventh dispatch from the deepest realms of Subarachnoid Space’s galaxy, and their first for the like-minded travelers at the Portland-based Strange Attractor’s Audio House label. While one could be forgiven for expecting a band this far into their existence to fall back on previous ideas and releases and merely sleepwalk through another album, the San Francisco band’s newest disc finds them with a renewed sense of focus fostered undoubtedly by the addition of bassist Stoo Odom and their newfound home on one of the best up-and-coming experimental rock labels in the country. They’ve been pegged as a space rock band by most, which while adequately describing the overall sound and aesthetic, doesn’t particularly tell the full story. Granted, theirs is a drony and oft-psychedelic brand of music, but it is also one that maintains an enormously welcome sense of purpose that adheres to their own self-prescribed vision. Whereas other bands in this genre can sometimes drown under the weight of their own musings, Also Rising is a taut and complex release, fundamentally rooted in heavy, dark rock rhythmics that serve as a base for more explorative guitar work.

Much like their last long-player, the wonderful These Things Take Time, Also Rising is meant to be consumed as one long piece of music. As opposed to other bands who have tried this trick with less than stellar results, one gets the sense that this record is comprised of two distinct pieces of music, each with several subtle movements and portions that establish varying moods and themes throughout the context of the work as a whole. “The Harsh Facts of Life” establishes many of the album’s central motifs pretty quickly – the on-point rhythm section of drummer Chris Van Huffel and bassist Odom laying down a fierce, rippling backdrop for Mason Jones and Melynda Jackson’s guitar wizardry. And yet almost immediately the band goes about distancing themselves from some of their more well-known peers. Jones and Jackson forgo easy riffs, instead transforming their strings into waves of subtly shifting drones with both neat textures and ferocious bites. And rather than simply mirror the work of the guitarists, the rhythm section drives hard against themselves, serving as a crucial counterpoint and a necessary grounding as the track builds in intensity. It’s atmospheric for sure, but powerful and never meandering for one second. This gives way to “Deep End”, a track that features a simpler rhythm against sparse guitars, trading off against basic notes and drones that resemble a viola. It gradually develops into a shimmering haze before becoming more frenetic, trading in the brood for a stab at more chaotic structures. “Untitled” finds the rhythms locking in again, only this time functioning as a backdrop for guitars that sound like bastardized theremins and mutated siren wails, using these often harsh concepts to build a lush and gorgeous bed of sound. “Angel Food” closes out the album’s first half, balancing out introspective guitar melodicism with more experimental figures, allowing the notes to dance into the distance with tones that almost sound like ghostly transistor radio voices.

After what amounts to a wonderfully heady first segment, “Burn Shot” establishes a more urgent rock presence for the second half of the disc – a snake-like bass line mingles with pummeling drums as the guitars dangle just out of transporter range with their vast array of white noise, spare chords, and intoxicating drones. “Tuscon” opens things up to allow for more introspective textures. The rhythm bounds from exploratory to thundering at the drop of a hat, while the guitars explore forlorn notes and drones that give way to harder strums, all before engaging the warp engines and heading further into the stars. “Dateland” finds the band swirling towards the end of a glorious wormhole of sound, contrasting a pummeling six-string assault with more restrained go at things, all the while building the fury with matching drums and bass. “Down Nod Out” is the most minimal take on here, focusing on the building tension between more conventional guitar sounds and background noise. “Tigris” serves as a proper end to the second half of the album, closing out this portion of the movement with an initial foray into more deeply experimental territory. The drums scamper and kick while the bass probes around the haywire guitars, looking for a way to lock everything together. The quartet gradually find their loping sense of rhythm, going from nervous to majestic, and with it sending the droning guitar army off to the stars to convene with the heavenly bodies once more – far and away my favorite portion of the album. An unlisted tenth track finishes off the disc. This one, pulled from a boom box in their practice space, is interesting, but of such a markedly different texture that it almost seems superfluous – a dark, dirty recording of a more ominous sounding Subarachnoid Space.

My complaints about the album are few and of relatively minor note. Much of the grit that was apparent in the amazing live performance I caught this past fall (after a Terrastock appearance that had people raving) seems to have been stripped clean on this record. While much of it still does sound beautiful, there’s an overall cleanliness to the recording (especially the guitars) that makes me hope for another chance to see them live soon. Also, listening to the record in one’s home means doing without the excellent visual component of their live show, courtesy of video artist Greg Tietz. His loops of found footage and lost B-movies add wonderful layers of effect to the already highly evocative music. If you find this record up to par then definitely see them on a stage when they hit the road in a couple of months.

In summation, Also Rising stands as a great triumph. With a complex sound that manages to lack derivation in a genre that is sometimes overwrought with it, it’s a wonder Subarachnoid Space are not a group already on the minds and lips of space-rock connoisseurs everywhere. Space- and psyche-rockers will delight in this hour-long excursion into the most fluid reaches of subspace, while those dedicated to more experimental textures will find a lot to love in the droning guitar figures. And those of you simply looking for a bitchin’ rock record would be advised to give this one a listen as well.

By Michael Crumsho

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