Since the waning of the original psychedelic era, folks have proven all too willing to use the p-word to describe music marked by the merest hint of trippiness, rather than conserve it for sonic outbursts designed to truly alter mind states, acting as conduits into another dimension. Connecticut’s Wayne Rogers, who acts as the (admittedly undulating) axis for this entire series of bands, is most assuredly a proponent of the latter form, as he’s proven over a decade’s worth of hallucinogenic guitar excursions that seem custom-designed for astral projection.
Magic Hour, which teams Rogers and longtime partner Kate Biggar (guitar) with ex-Galaxie 500 constituents Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang (who record on their own as Damon and Naomi), is unequivocally the most graspable of the lot — which means the band’s space-rock sculptures maintain shapes for up to 30 seconds at a time. The general vibe exuded is that of a dank-hued rejoinder to a new generation of post-hippie revivalists, a Velvet Underground to Phish’s Grateful Dead. While hardly nihilistic, No Excess Is Absurd reflects a certain affinity for decay, both in the slowly unraveling melodies of feedback-dosed tracks like “Isn’t a Way” and “Heads Down #2” and a pervasive lassitude that recalls the earliest output of Pere Ubu.
On Will They Turn You on or Will They Turn on You, the quartet sails right past “slowcore” and “psychedelic.” Krukowski and Yang assert themselves a bit more extensively on this outing, lending a propitiatory placidity to deliberately paced songs like “Chance Was” and “When I Remembered.” The impassive rhythms frame Rogers’ pensive vocals nicely, but 20-plus minutes of the relentless “Passing Words” — with extended improvisational do-si-dos — provide the album’s strongest magic. A similar sensibility invested the increasingly inflamed live sets that led up to the recording of the idyllic improv track (yes, just one) that constitutes the breathtaking Secession ’96.
For many years, Rogers led Crystalized Movements, a fluid aggregation with such a sporadic recording/performance schedule that some folks thought the prefix “the shadowy,” so often appended to mentions of the group, was actually part of its name. Mind Disaster is, for all intents and purposes, a manifestation of Rogers’ most elusive dream states. Accompanied by drummer Ed Boyden, he wends through elongated jams — which gel into song form only by coincidence — trailing a hypnotically glimmering thread of distortion, fuzz and the odd garage-prog riff. Spectacular, if overly dependent on lysergic enhancement for full enjoyment. Also dating from this early-’80s period, the belatedly released Damaged Lights is a collection of direct-to-boombox outtakes, ranging from the medicated post-Yardbirds blues of “Here Comes the Train” to such wild feedback excursions as “I Am the Only Guitarist in the World and I’m Bleeding.”
Rogers put a “real” band together before recording Dog. Tree. Satellite Seers…, an album that, while slightly less unhinged than its predecessors, would likely fade the paisley of faux-lysergic posers at a hundred paces. The addition of second guitarist Eric Arn seems to have encouraged Rogers to focus on structure (not to mention vocals) a bit more meticulously: the two engage in a handful of scintillating duels based in chord progressions that press forward rather than spiral endlessly. Biggar joined upon Arn’s departure, cementing the band’s final lineup and nudging the sound ever so slightly out of its druggy torpor on This Wideness Comes. While guitar experiments like “Third Half” are still the order of the day, the more tightly arranged tracks (like the forbidding “The Second a Siren”) radiate a confidence that borders on belligerence, a nice change from the insular ambience of past releases. Rogers’ vocals — excavated by the use of a studio with contemporary equipment — impart a sense of anxiety that contributes plenty to the overall mood.
Revelations From Pandemonium, which proved to be Crystalized Movements’ finale, is far and away the group’s most successful intermingling of concentrated drug-bazaar rapture and post-modern sonic mischief-making — thanks in part to judicious use of vaporous keyboard fillips. If at times redolent of Sister-era Sonic Youth, the album — particularly open-ended spine-gnawers like “This Dimming Today” — establishes the Rogers/Biggar tandem as a force to be reckoned with.
Since the end of Crystalized Movements, Rogers and Biggar — abetted by a wide variety of fellow travelers stoked on a combination of imported psych bootlegs and homegrown combustibles-have crafted some of the headier improv-rock of the ’90s. B.O.R.B. (an acronym, logically enough, for Bongloads Of Righteous Boo) is a hit-and-miss proposition thanks to its exceedingly crude, minimal set-up (the two guitarists are joined by St. Johnny’s Tom Leonard on organ) and live-to-two-track recordings. Still, there are moments of pure transcendence, such as Blast Off‘s nearly album-long “I Was a Beautiful Swan.”
Where B.O.R.B. sometimes come off as sonic archaeologists reassembling the skeletons of eras past, the considerably rawer Vermonster sounds like a primitive tribe intent on digging the marrow out of those bones by any means necessary. The ranks of the guitar army are bolstered by the addition of Forced Exposure publisher Jimmy Johnson, whose sustained, fuzzy tones add an nth dimension to the pair of free-form freakouts that make up Instinctively Inhuman. Vermonster really hits its stride, however, on the double-disc The Holy Sound of American Pipe, which backs up such narcocentric titles as “Return to the Apex of High” and “Ecstatic State of Human Elevation” with twisted, raga drones that serve to disorient even as they delight.