Monday, April 23, 2007

Secret Chiefs 3 - 'Book Of Horizons'

In the space of 4 albums, Trey Sprance's post-Bungle outfit has moved from being a more-or-less me-too exercise in musical confoundment and evolved into an esoteric, challenging and utterly immersive musical experiment in its own right. Spruance combines his dual fascinations with Mid-Eastern and Indian music, and the grandeur of classic movie themes of the Ennio Morricone variety with an affinity for disjointed electronics, a little surf music and a surprising dose of death metal on this brilliant, wayward and amazingly expansive album.

The gimmick behind this album, and the two that are slated to follow it in a trilogy of sorts is that it is a compilation of tracks by different bands with distinct styles, contributing to the latest Secret Chiefs 3 anthology. FORMS plays Mid-Eastern marches and ballads, sometimes adulterated with experimental touches. Ishraqiyan plays a sort of Persian-rock fusion music that often sounds oddly Bollywoodish. Traditionalists play huge, sweeping movie-score type music. Holy Vehm is death metal with a lo-fi, experimental bent. The Electromagnetic Azoth is a strange power electronics project, not above throwing slices of Bhangra riffs at the listener amongst other Easter doodads. UR is a sort of avant-garde surf band. The trick behind the gimmick, of course, is that Trey Spruance is the leader of each of these bands, which sometimes share other common musicians as well. Still, the 6 outfits are more or less discrete entities musically, albeit with a common penchant for atmospherics, sudden mid-stream shifts and Mid-Eastern styles. It's like if Frank Zappa was The Tea Party's frontman, to go for the music-journo-shorthand analogy.

The progression of this album is lurching and spastic at times, but ultimately it's an ebb and flow of tension and release that retains a common thread (which goes beyond the common Mid-Eastern influence), while twisting it hither and thither with mad abandon. Something about the vast ambition and almost mystical immersion this music reflects puts me in mind of classic King Crimson at times, for reasons that are very hard to define in terms of literal musical correspondence.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline:This is mind-bending, brain-challengingly quirky and intelligent musical experimentation. It's also very good listening - there are great, big melodies that draw you in, brutally unexpected transitions balanced perfectly with pure ear-candy moments, just enough totally scary discords to make a point without descending into abstruse atonal elitism and generally a vast variety of musical sights, sounds and smells to lure you into Mr. Spruance's Bizzare Bazaar of Sonic Delights. I honestly believe this may be one of the most original and awe-inspiring albums to be realeased this century. The sequel(s) are slated to appear sometime this year, and I can't wait to wrap my ears around them.

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