P.M. Dawn, Of the Heart, Of the Soul, and Of the Cross: The Utopian Experience
The first CD I ever bought was the Boomerang soundtrack, go figure, and P.M. Dawn’s ‘I’d Die Without You’ was one of my favourite songs in high school. But I never followed up to see what their other music was like. Now I have, and to my surprise, the duo (brothers, in fact) are a rare thing: hip hop mystics. DJ Minutemix’s production opens several of the songs out from slightly astringent austerity to dreamlike New Wave lushness, perfectly underscoring the bizarre private psychedelicism of the Prince Be’s far-reaching, imperfectly formed rhymes. The trip is both cosmic and paracosmic, hint hint, not least because brother Be’s multiply-overdubbed (lovely) voice is the album’s primary sonic element — which gives the whole album the quality of a meditation out of season, a mix of wonder and worry. Near as I can tell, the title of ‘Comatose’ is meant here as a neutral, or possibly positive, state of consciousness. That is, I hope you agree, a bit weird; even weirder is the fact that, even so, the album’s cockeyed spirituality is totally compelling — maybe because the music itself is so welcoming. Well: so was Wonderland. Visionary stuff.
Constance Demby, Skies Above Skies
She’s more committed to this than you are to anything, which sanctifies what pseudosophisticates might be tempted to call New Age pap. Or even actual sophisticates — not that we listen to those assholes anyway. Given half a chance, these dharma-dulcimer devotionals (track titles include ‘Peace of God,’ ‘Endless,’ and yes, even ‘St Francis Prayer’) will take you halfway from where you are to whatever state of total immersion evidently gripped the musicians involved, which means that whether or not this album is ‘any good’ comes down to what you’re willing to permit, to try on. I’m pretty sure there’s a religion named for the act of submission, and I’m pretty sure St Francis had nothing whatsoever to do with it, but All Is All anyway. I recommend not paying too close attention, or thinking about how Demby’s vocal limitations resemble Madonna’s, or playing it during sex. I do recommend sex though.
Grateful Dead, ‘Dark Star,’ 24 Sep 1972
I think it was Tom Constanten who said that ‘Dark Star’ was a state of mind rather than a song — a kind of contract between the musicians, to remain totally open to whatever epiphenomena might result from its cosmic lope. Musically it’s modal harmony 101, which is why it long held such improvisatory potential even for a bunch of disorganized acid heads…and which is why, by Garcia’s own account, the song ran its course in the 1970s. This version, taken from the 30 Trips box set, is good the way all the 1972 versions I’ve heard are good: the band was tight-loose and fully engaged, and the Mickey/Keith switchout gave them a richer, less cluttered sound, so as with everything else from this year of radically coherent exploration the baseline is quality. But there’s also a lot of slightly astringent faffing about, plenty of chicken-scratch rhythm guitar and wandering bass, and the inevitable bit where Garcia fans some middle-register melodies while everyone around him makes atonal noise…as well as a typically pointless drum solo and probably about the average amount of trippiness by the numbers. It’s silly to call a 34-minute freewheeling rock improvisation ‘safe,’ but that’s how this feels. And I’m realizing that the Dead’s cosmicism is only palatable when leavened with their deep connection to more earthly musics. In other words, taking this or any other ‘Dark Star’ in pure isolation, as I tend to, is a self-limiting activity which misses the whole point of the Dead’s catholic fusion approach. In other other words: listen to Set One.
The Legendary Pink Dots, The Maria Dimension
My initial impression was that this was just bullshit. OK, that’s on me. Subsequent listens revealed an engrossing consistency of tone and theme — of vision, you might say. Pretension, or is it haplessness, still wafts off the vocals at times, but the sonics never collapse to any single genre or style, and after a handful of listens it all makes a kind of preconscious sense, like a Beefheart record or (ahem) some addlepated early-90s prog/jam studio albums I could name — Maria came out in 1991, FWIW, same year as Lawn Boy. I hear the Hawkwind SF/F analogy, and I’ll suggest a certain Over the Edge kinship too: like Don Joyce’s three-hour synthesizer-as-truthsayer radio marathons which I’ve come to adore, Maria aims for an ideal of beauty that’s both disorienting and sweetly sincere, but comes off as antagonistic for its principled refusal to elevate satisfaction above fulfillment. I’m not sure anything of lasting value is being said here; the most memorable lyrics is ‘We ALL have names,’ repeated interminably and eventually going out of phase with the backing track. But as I’m pretty sure I’ve said at exhausting length elsewhere, there’s dignity and the possibility of sublimity in the devotional act of creating and sharing a private world, an idea of the universe/self sufficiently expansive and alive to encompass the actual universe/self. My current sense is that The Maria Dimension is, among many trillions of other things, bullshit; I mean that as a compliment.