Chris Schlarb isn't your typical composer, working for a year on this music before writing any melodies. However, given that his previous recording, the beguiling Twilight and Ghost Stories (Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2007), took four years and long periods of soul-searching, little the guitarist and electronics musician of such adventurous outfits as Create (!) and I-Heart-Lung does is that surprising anymore. Except, that is, for the music itself. It would've been difficult to imagine a follow-up recording more beautiful or conceptually refined than Twilight and Ghost Stories, but Psychic Temple achieves just that; for 33 minutes, this sublime meditation sees Schlarb work his minimalist magic as never before.
A large cast of Los Angeles' best underground/alternative musicians and long-term Schlarb collaborators lend their services, and a unifying thread of Psychic Temple is the multitude of intimate, heartfelt dialogues that plot the contours of the music. The guitar duo of Schlarb and Danny Miller, along with trumpeter Kris Tiner, weave subtle lines on the intro to "I Can Live Forever If I Can Slowly Die," and vocals arrangements as light as angel's hair create gentle swirls, as the trumpet loses itself in playful reverie. Instrumental voices loom and fade like ghostly actors, leaving wispy musical vapor trails, and an abiding sense of peace.
In a sophisticated mosaic of layered sounds only drummers Justice Constantine and Andrew Pompey remain unedited in the mixing process, bringing a real-time immediacy to the music; bass pedals, toms, brushes, and cymbals as faint as drizzle provide pillowy propulsion, and a breeze-through-branches ambiance, as opposed to rhythm.
The only overt percussive rhythm comes in "Dream State > Police State," with Tabor Allen's kick drum providing a quarter-note pulse which forms the song's spine. Shimmering vibraphone, guitar notes as luminous as fire-flies in pitch black, and splashes of piano all combine with choral vocal harmonies to create a contemplative ambiance. The subtle drone-like fusion of horns, Dave Easley's sublime pedal steel guitar, and a gorgeous arrangement for violin, viola and cello that could deceive an accordionist in a blindfold test, add to the chorus of conversations, almost subliminal in their unifying nature.
Strummed electric guitar and its tremolo tail announce the zen-like "Daughters of Ursa Major," with strings and acoustic guitar joining in a slow waltz. There's a monastic purity about Juliana Barwick and Aaron Roche's vocals, and Anthony Shadduck's double-bass arrives like an unobtrusive old friend, while the drums sound like the muffled rattle of a distant slow train. "White Dove in a Psychic Temple" features a deceptively simple melody, carried by the single, conjoined voice of trumpet, trombone and flute. Acoustic guitar chords act as cues, first for Tinerwho unfolds a bluesy trumpet soloand then piano and, most strikingly, a beautifully warm, fuzz-toned bass solo from Mike Watts, whichaccompanied by lulling vocalsmarks the closing statement.
Psychic Temple seduces with its unrelenting beauty; the perfect antidote to an increasingly noisy, hectic, and often senseless world, this psychic temple provides balm for mind and soul, and is a wonderfully inviting place to spend awhile.
I Can Live Forever If I Slowly Die; Dream State > Police State; Daughters of Ursa Major; White Dove in the Psychic Temple.
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