The Upshot: Improvisational, ghostly aural hypnosis with overtones of classic psychedelia, tribal folk, free jazz, and black metal from this Dallas guy-gal duo.
BY FRED MILLS
There’s always been an experimental community lurking at the fringes of the Texas music scene. More often than not, the Lone Star State is characterized in terms of its thriving blues and roots, but going all the way back to the mid ‘60s there were outfits like the Red Crayola/Krayola intent on dissolving traditional song structures and boundaries and probing both the inner spaces and the outer limits. This became even more explicit in the ‘80s when the Butthole Surfers arrived, and then again in the ‘90s when you had an entire movement (so to speak) of psychedelic sonic pharmacists clustered in the Denton/Dallas/Fort worth region.
The latest heir to this avant tradition is Dallas’ Tofu Carnage label, which via the likes of post-rockers Sans Soleil, black metal combo Dead to a Dying World, and jazz-punks Unconscious Collective excels in thwarting listener expectations and probing the psychic undercurrents of sound and vision. (Writing about the latter group in a review of its 2014 album Pleistocene Moon, yours truly hailed its “atavistic” inclinations and “skronky, jazzy, punk-improv music”… Shifting gears at will and turning on the proverbial dime, Unconscious Collective makes their chaos sound easy, pushing the listener relentlessly until he or she bleeds (or suffocates).”) Now comes They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy, featuring U.C./D.T.A.D.W. guitarist Gregg Prickett on axes, bass, flute, and shakers, and Sarah Ruth Alexander, who has guested with U.C., on dulcimer, harmonium, recorder, and bells, plus vocals that are at turns ethereal and operatic.
A 2LP set, Far From the Silvery Light marries intimacy to desolation, wraith-like elegance to primal flourishes, a duality that comes through most vividly on 16-minute track “Comancheria.” Here, a double-tracked Alexander coos, yips, and ululates as if channeling a distant coyote or wolf —at various times on the album her chant style of vocals resembles traditional Native America sing—and also adding textural recorder trills. Meanwhile, Prickett plucks out skeletal modal riffs that steadily rise in volume and intensity, eventually becoming clouds of fuzz en route to a chaotic climax, then gentle denouement. (For all you trainspotters out there, the tune suggests a marriage between late Quicksilver Messenger Service fretboard wizard John Cipollina and Krautrock legends Ash Ra Tempel.) Elsewhere one hears overtones of Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins (the harmonium-powered “Holy Longing”), John Fahey and Yma Sumac (the finger-style minimalism and octave-spanning singing of “Obsidian in Aorta”), and even black metallish splatter jazz not far from the Unconscious Collective’s killing fields (“Red Blood Green Grass,” awash in brutal swipes of distorted guitar improv from Prickett and vocals that turn into shrieks of near-terror from Alexander).
Challenging stuff, yes, with nakedly emotional swings between serenity and unease, but utterly mesmerizing in the final estimation. One readily imagines that when the pair play live, no setlists are drawn up and no two performances are even remotely similar as they offer sonic sacrament to their transfixed tribe. (You can listen to a stream of the entire album online at the Tofu Carnage BandCamp page.)
Consumer Note: As with the aforementioned U.C. album from 2014, this platter is pressed on gorgeous colored vinyl, the wax a kind of translucent pale green that actually had me checking to make sure it wasn’t glow in the dark vinyl like one used to encounter during the colored vinyl and picture disc craze of the early ‘80s. It’s not, but if you view it from across a semi-darkened room illuminated with the right kind of light source, it almost resembles, appropriately enough, a full moon—from the silvery light, indeed.
DOWNLOAD: “Comancheria,” “Obsidian in Aorta”