Nobody better flew the flag of New York’s indie underground than Azalia Snail. Now relocated to Los Angeles, the self-declared queen of “space folk” — with an arsenal of collaborators (including members of Fly Ashtray, Live Skull and King Missile) — has remained focused on the singular style and vision of her own trippy music. That vision involves a shimmering dose of psychedelia, vocals buried in echo and instruments which flutter about like a chorus of unfinished phrases.
The music on Snailbait is primarily Azalia’s folksy acoustic guitar with subtle touches of chiming percussion. “Flight 520” prefigures future works, with a syrupy wall of sound cascading through chanted, incomprehensible vocals. John S. Hall of King Missile duets with Azalia on the bottomless “Baby Brother.”
The better-recorded Burnt Sienna improves the sense of where the chaos fits in Snail’s folk. “St. Nowhere” is almost a pop song, with a memorable structure that switches between proper verses and moments of guitar spazz. Then again, most of the songs are quite poppy (listen to “Armoured Guard”) if one ignores their dark turns and unstructured percussion.
The cover photo of Fumarole Rising depicts Snail as Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanys. Things have gotten more clamorous while maintaining their blissfulness, with the notable addition of Gary Olson (who went on to form Ladybug Transistor) on horns and greater use of distortion for background swirls on “Misfortunately” and “Having an Experience,” a wash of noisy chaos from which Hall’s voice occasionally emerges. The folk sounds of Snail’s earlier recordings are more densely packed into a thick but lighthearted psych sound. The same holds true for Escape Maker, which again highlights Snail’s cunning ability for composing a wombadelic orchestra.
Breaker Mortar, on which Snail is credited with most of the instrumentation, explores dynamics and collage more than ever before: “Consult the Map” has an army of chimes. “Gilt Vatrine” sports a cavalcade of guitar effects. But “Gathering Harbingers” turns off most of the effects, and “Servant of Smoke” pushes music into the background for a creepy lullaby.
Petal Metal is a two-disc retrospective. Volume is a collaboration by Snail with Trumans Water. Ms. Snail has also recorded with SportsGuitar under the name Swiss Bliss.