Friday, 22 July 2011

MUSIC: On the Other Side of the Sunset (Rubdown): "Dreamland" EP by Moonface (2010)

Running to just over twenty minutes (and therefore ineligible for any charts), the ‘Dreamland EP’ by Spencer Krug (trading under the name “Moonface”) is an appropriately sensuous suite in roughly three movements, with the marimba providing a gentle, lilting, south Pacific undulation; each note like sunlight on a wavelet. Played as a lead instrument, the milk-bottle toned marimba almost inevitably reminds you of Tubular Bells (or the Theme to The Exorcist, prog-haters), but if that doesn’t persuade you, think ‘Ten Day Interval’ by Tortoise.

Somewhere in the second movement, ‘Dreamland’ becomes a quest narrative like ‘Nightingale Song’ from the last SunRub record, and even without the full band, Spencer’s lyrical flow matches that sense of being on a journey through tropical dreamscapes, unstoppable because you’re fulfilling some mythic destiny; uninhibited by gravity or logic, because your meat-sack of a body’s lying back at home, literally paralysed:

I venture into a dreamland where the waves have come alive
& I watch them chase the people down the beach
But they are bound to the water
Like creatures on a leash

I have ridden on these waves
I have crashed into the shore
I have rolled along the floor
I will be there in no time at all...

What’s intriguing is how much Spencer’s following in the footsteps of Surrealism. Re-visiting The Magnetic Fields (as in, the seminal surrealist text from 1919, which is still very readable, FYI), it becomes apparent that surrealism isn’t just a generational discovery, it’s a personal one. Already fascinated by madness, psychoanalysis, and a kind of proto-Situationism (i.e. behaving like a twat in public to twist the collective melon of the bourgeoisie), André Breton started a series of experiments, and then a whole movement, to reproduce the poetic inspiration he had as he was drowsing over his books, one night. Almost a century later, Spencer clearly doesn’t want to be a rock-star cliché, which rules out hard drugs for inspiration, just as laudanum and absinthe were somewhat passé in Breton’s day. Like The Magnetic Fields there’s an evident sense of loss (in Breton’s case, for his nihilist friend, who OD’d on opium), although the “plot” of Dreamland is slightly more complex than cherchez la femme. Here’s the second movement:

I was hanging out in the tower
The tower overlooked the sea
I saw him check the girl for fever
By pushing all his fingers through her skin
He’s just reading her mind…
I venture into a dreamland where I can say this & you’ll believe

I’ve been here before…
I know your face from the last time I dreamt I was losing control
I was lying around with chameleons—I was hanging around with bitches
I heard that there’s a war on & I’m sure that they’re not with us
No no no no no...

In a few short lines the experience of being detached from your body, and outside time, as sensations from your limbs retreat, falling asleep, is collapsed together with the idea of ritual healing as a guided meditation, bringing the patient through their fever, and back into their body. It’s possible the ‘chameleons’ are like the ‘vampires’ and ‘handsome vultures’ elsewhere in the SunRub world – all those two-faced hangers-on – just as Spencer’s sung elsewhere about ‘actors’ and ‘leopards’ to figure out what it means to be a trained musician turned performer, but I don’t want to close off all the meanings; it’s up to you to venture in, and it’s well worth your while. Even at the end, when the singer’s re-surfacing from sleep, what might be banal details (‘I am making hissing sounds with my mouth’) don’t get diminished by the obvious explanations, but show how the mind plays on them to multiply meanings, and there’s some appropriately eeeevil white noise accompanying. Plus, ‘I am waiting for the fairies to kill the lights and chew the walls’ – disturborific.

I venture into a dreamland, where I am living on the edge
Where I am living I am living I am living right on the edge

The courtyard & the café are black
I am wearing 3 or 4 black coats
It’s dark on the stairs but it could be darker
I am waiting for the fairies to kill the lights and chew the walls

They take too long, they take too long
On my way back down the stairs they are gone
I have waited for their song
& now they’re feral & transformed
Into animals that scatter from the sun

I am making hissing sounds with my mouth...

Long story short: this isn’t intriguing because of the avant-garde echoes; more like a reminder of how moving and accessible Surrealism can be, whenever it arises. As it happens, Spencer’s influences (or fellow-travellers) may be closer to home. Spencer’s a fan of Phil Elverum (Microphones / Mt Eerie) whose splendid last album, Wind’s Poem, featured a devastatingly sad and beautiful trip to Twin Peaks, combining marimba, a sample of the theme tune, and a slinky bassline, into the best thing Elverum’s ever done. It’s easy to reduce Lynch’s creation to a sustained nightmare about the child abuse (and subsequent drug abuse) lurking behind the white picket fences, but Elverum sings from the perspective of those primal forces living in the Black Lodge, “always trying to climb out of the hole / buried… in space” – trying to push through to our world. Isn’t that what art, with or without overt surrealism, should be doing? Recreating that sense of adventure, and dread, by playing on the possibility that there isn’t always a rational explanation; that what you’re after, you may never find, and what’s after you may not be escapable, because it doesn’t play by the rules…

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