U.S. Christmas – The Valley Path

January 01, 1970





Droner rock alert! Taking a cue from aesthetic – and, at
times, sonic – kinsmen Sleep, whose doomy ’99 epic Jerusalem comprised a single (though banded into “segments”)  52-minute song, Marion, NC, combo U.S.
Christmas serves up a lone track for its fifth full-length. “A song does not have to be a part of a collection,” writes the
band on its website. “It is more important for music to take the path it
chooses, and an artist must be willing to let this happen.”


The question becomes, of course, whether
or not the audience is willing to let it happen. Matters of cannabis
consumption aside (and let’s not kid ourselves; USX, as the six-piece is known
by friends and fans, clearly locates itself on the hemp-stained end of the
spectrum alongside such groups as Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Kinski, Earth
and the aforementioned Sleep), I propose that it boils down more to a matter of
trust than tolerance. Heavy-ass, lumbering, droning extended passages such as
those that mark the riff-tastic The
Valley Path
aren’t exactly the stuff of drive-time radio or warehouse raves
– although one could envision these widescreen symphonies being employed, from
a distance, to fuel a chillout session following a rave. After all, “loud” can
be subtle, too.


Intriguingly, while “The Valley Path” is
a single track, with no banding, it is broken up into segments. At approximately the 11-minute, 20-minute and 26-minute
points the group slowly downshifts into lull mode (for example, from 26:15
until about 27:12 all you hear is a series of distant electronic whirs and what
appears to be residual amplifier buzz; an earlier gap featured a field
recording – literally – of cricket noises). This does indeed have the intended
effect of lulling the listener, but it’s not to set you up for a jarring
return-to-reality; instead, USX prefers easing back into the fray, building the
riffs from the ground up all over again. Think being sucked back into a vortex,
rather than being booted into a bottomless pit, of pummeling tandem guitars,
unhurried tribal drums, huffing synth and sinewy violin, all to intensely
psychedelic effect. (Vocals are present, too, but only in the first segment.)
It all comes to a head at 33:58 with a grandiose, Neil Young-style clarion-call
of massed chords, an exhilarating climax that gradually fades away back into
the sonic ether of crickets and treefrogs.


And if you’ve been patient up until now,
the accumulated endorphin rush is profound.



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