Dusted Reviews

Ulaan Markhor - Ulaan Markhor

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Ulaan Markhor

Album: Ulaan Markhor

Label: Soft Abuse

Review date: May. 30, 2012

Your summertime, head-nodding kosmiche rock LP has arrived in the form of Ulaan Markhor, the latest project from psychedelic journeyman Steven R. Smith.

Smith has followed a tangled path over the years, from his membership in San Francisco’s Mirza through Thuja, Hala Strana, and the trilogy of CDs by Ulaan Khol, not to mention a number of releases under his own name. You could argue that Smith’s work is determinedly obscure, given that it’s almost entirely instrumental in nature, with reliably minimal design and the briefest of liner notes. Nevertheless, the man possesses a strong personal style. The trilogy of Ulaan Khol CDs melded Hala Strana’s atmospheric takes on Eastern European song forms with thoroughly modern guitar haze, and the results were mesmerizing. Smith’s clouds of guitar carry innate movement within, taking things well past the territory of drone.

This first album under the name Ulaan Markhor is clearly linked in name and, to some extent, in sound with his Ulaan Khol project, but it also takes us full circle back to Mirza’s larger sound. While apparently a solo affair, Ulaan Markhor breathes with the power of a full band -- steady drums, percussive ornamentation, keyboards and liberal doses of guitar. For these 10 songs, Smith takes the atmospherics of his Ulaan Khol guise and wraps it all around structures that hew closer to traditional rock than we’ve heard from him in many years. Not surprisingly, it sounds great -- I could drop endless names from Popol Vuh to Magnog, Ash Ra Tempel to Magic Lantern, and more, but you’ve got the idea.

Shifting from the abstraction of Ulaan Khol to this more concrete formulation could have been a let-down. There’s a danger in the familiar, of course, but here it’s wedded to a satisfying clamor, particularly the layers of guitar that veer from Loren Connors to Barn Owl, with shades of Fushitsusha and even Skullflower in the mix. Tinges of unexpected, almost dissonant melody hint at Hala Strana, while an overall density keeps things well grounded. This isn’t overly-pretty, insubstantial psychedelia: instead it’s a weighty, layered work with a strong emotional core.

Perhaps unexpectedly, most of the songs here are relatively short: only one passes the five-minute mark, and that’s the closer, "Dancing," a remarkable, heavily-mesmeric strum. As a result, these tracks are admirably focused on making their point and moving on. Far from shambling jams, the songs have a purpose and something to say, and while on a few occasions the fade-outs feel premature and rough, they leave you wanting more, which is always preferable to the alternative.

Deep and resonant, Ulaan Markhor conjures something that, for all their strengths, not all of Smith’s recordings achieve: the immediate desire to hit the repeat button upon reaching the end.

By Mason Jones

Read More

View all articles by Mason Jones

Find out more about Soft Abuse

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.