Saturday, August 4, 2007

Quetzolcoatl – Up and Down Dream Valley Thruway [American Grizzly]/Quetzolcoatl – Living [Leaf Trail]

It’s that time again. Which in case you don’t know exactly which “time” I am talking about (cause apparently there’s a lot of them); it is, of course, time for me to rave about more newish Quetzolcoatl releases. This time its two cd-rs, one from Missouri’s quite cool American Grizzly label and the other from Tim Hurley’s (a.k.a. Quetzolcoatl) new Leaf Trail label in Ireland. Both look and sound resplendent as I’ve come to expect from this project.
Up and Down Dream Valley Thruway is probably the most varied Quetzolcoatl album I’ve heard to date and also one of the best. “River is a Killer Brother” features the rare occurrence of a backbeat, minimal and slightly irregular, but a backbeat nonetheless. The track has a real nice contrast of ethereal vocals and a chaotic jumble of different rhythmic loops and sounds. When this idea of combining disparate elements is tried sometimes the result is disjointed or ill-fitted; not here though, the track feels cohesive even with it’s slightly fractured rhythm. “Links Awakening” kicks out the hypno-dreaminess with mounds of vocals heaped upon a gently flowing keyboard loop. It’s a very lush and full sounding track and an excellent addition to Quetzolcoatl’s burgeoning back catalog of hypnotizers. More dreaminess comes with “Golden Sun”. The track is pretty simple there is a shimmering background loop underneath a vocal refrain so pretty you can’t even zone out to it. “Totem Mountain” is less blissful but no less magnificent. A melancholy choir of vocal loops drifts through until a clanging percussive loop begins grinding away and a heavy drone begins swelling all around everything meeting with brief tribal drumming. It all blurs into the sound emanating from a faraway spirit ritual just out of sight. The title track is the most aggressive I’ve heard the Quetzolcoatl project get. It still has the signature heavily reverbed sound but there are faster, rougher loops circulating and a lot more distortion and feedback coursing through its veins. It’s not harsh but it is certainly blasted, or maybe blasting is a better descriptor. Either way, it’s a nine minute rocket ride up and down dream valley thruway. “Bloody Paw Prints” is the epic closer and is the murkiest cut on the album. It’s a pretty good mind zoner, if a little bit long. The vocals aren’t laid on as thickly and the grumbling field recordings come through a bit more, making it a little woozy almost. It’s nice, slight change-up to end the album on. I’m really impressed with the balance between sonic variation and consistency here; despite tweaking the approach each time out, the album still pretty much feels like one fantastic whole. The foldout artwork comes with a few hints as to how Tim makes his sounds. Vocals, keyboards, a floor tom and field recordings from Australia and Hong Kong are listed as instruments so there’s a piece of the puzzle. I still don’t how he is able to pull those elements into a thing of such beauty, but I'm better off not knowing and just listening I’m sure.
Though the various approaches in Up and Down Dream Valley Thruway cohered well, Living moves much more like a single whole to my ears. There are 10 tracks that fly by in a 59 minute blisstrip. This isn’t to say that each track sounds the same or anything like that—Living also features new approaches, such as the most lucid piano I’ve ever heard on a Quetzolcoatl record—but the recording feels like a complete body and you barely notice one track changing from another. It’s harder to pick out specific favorite moments because they blur together so well (and pretty much every moment is just as incredible as the last). The first two tracks are both 6-7 minutes in length and work really well in tandem. The first track peacefully basks in rays of heavenly light, calming and euphoric. THis serenity gives way to the ecstatic on the second track, vibrant sounds abound, filling your mind, and it features some of Tim’s best vocal work yet. It’s really magnificent, it goes beyond even singing, he’s communicating, not through words or language but through pure feeling. Emotion is just pouring out of him. I don’t know, I’m not doing a very good job explaining it. That’s not surprising really, cause I’m not even sure if Tim Hurley himself could adequately describe it through mere words, which is why it’s music in the first place and not words. Don’t you just dig circular logic? Moving on. The sixth track is another highlight. Beginning with somewhat sparse splashes of piano and gradually, a lovely sea of sound runs into it, filling in all the crevices with gently flowing voice and pools of ethereal piano mist. The following track continues with a wash of piano and spiraling vocal loops and is concluded with what sounds to my ears like the track being manipulated with a wah pedal. Making the pair a perfect one, two punch; though it’s the softest, most mind-expanding punch you’ll ever receive. This thing is a free flowing tapestry (did I say that in my last Quetzolcoatl review?). Its title suits it perfectly, the music on this disc is vital and completely alive.
Each release features neat manipulated nature photography artwork by Tim himself. Also, Living’s hand painted (water colored?) cd-r comes in an oversized (I’d say about 6x6) plastic slipcase, which I really like a lot cause the artwork is bigger, and an insert. I am not sure if this is how all Leaf Trail releases are done or just this one in particular, but I like it. Both releases are excellent, I really like Dream Valley cause it shows the different sides of the project and Living sounds to me almost like a continuance of the brilliant Vast Eternity Bridges tape, so if you dig that or missed it grab this one. Bad news is Up and Down Dream Valley Thruway has been long sold out but there may be a few copies lounging at a distro somewhere, or maybe Tim might even have a copy. If you can grab it though, do it. Highly recommended. However, yr still in luck with Living. There are still copies readily available from Leaf Trail and various distros. With upcoming releases by Ghost Brames, Ixchel and a double album by Bonecloud (I can’t stop talking about it!) Leaf Trail is looking like it’s gonna to be a force to be reckoned with. I recommend getting in on the ground floor.

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