Riffs to Give You Sunburn: Sun Rays On Pinion

‘Raise the bow and aim for crimson dawn’

Raise the bow and aim for crimson dawn

This album, to pinch a phrase from Hendrix, steals and swells in like the first rays of a new rising sun, and much like these rays, heralds a renewed day, tirelessly creative and ambitious in its exploration of unmapped, exciting territory.

A groove–heavy, humid sludge album with sophisticated song writing, The Red Album possesses a sense of the epic, largely inspired by nature’s vast scale. Purposeful, accomplished and never hurried, thick veins of psychedelia flow through unpredictable song structures, carving out aural landscapes; barely a headbang is to be had, yet this album is heavy as a mountain of iron. The guitars burst and break, flourishing, weaving and overlapping, utilising plenty of pleasingly tactile tones as they play off each other, and the gruff vocals roar with a crusty swagger. A rhythm section full of jazzy sidesteps keeps the pacing lively, and even with many long instrumental sections, it never drags.

Digging into the dense, cryptic bursts of metaphorical lyrics, the concept of the discovery of a new, unsettled land emerges. Given Baroness’ Appalachians roots, it is tempting to think that this discovery would be that of America (at least, its discovery by European settlers), but this is not necessarily the case, especially given the broad symbolism that runs throughout this album. The story is that of an unsettled land being discovered, explored, harnessed and civilised (in one sense of the word) by those looking to make a new home. Mountains are climbed, rivers are paddled, and a city is born, along with language and culture. Life and death take place in the natural order of things, as part of a journey and adventure. There is a stronger narrative than this description suggests, but it is also far more nuanced, with lots of cues within the music. The journey ends on the triumphant note of Grad, which grows from a volume swell very similar to the intro of Rays On Pinion, creating a subtle sense of then and now, into a flourishing riff, which builds into a rousing finalé.

More so than being a good–time, easy–going listen, this is an album steeped in nature, wandering through hills, fields and forests, gazing over panoramas, awake and already walking in the first rays of the new rising sun.



Riffs to Give You Sunburn: Roots

springsummer2010 079

Roots is an album from and of a foreign land. The album art consists of ghoulish tribal ornaments, an Amazonian tribe dancing in a forest clearing, and the Sepultura ‘S’ logo, which with its spikes looks like some kind of exotic thorn.

Much has been said of this album, but I think its most interesting feature is that Sepultura went to Brazil’s Xavante tribe to gather recordings of their music and for some primal inspiration. Mixed with Sepultura’s ferocity and political anger, this is the sound of a band given over to a frenzy underneath the sun, gone native with a charging blood pulse. Every other riff is a headbanger and a pit–starter, and combined with chattering percussion (Breed Apart), the twanging of a berimbau (Attitude at 1.20), and tribal chanting (Ratamahatta), it creates the intensity of what I imagine a rain forest to sound like. The closing track, Canyon Jam, is a field recording of a valley, with a few added percussive noises. Despite its spacious and relaxed manner, in this way it is a microcosm of the whole album; ambient, percussive, elemental, uncompromising.

This is not an album to kick back to. Intensity is Roots’ strongest sensation. This is music best enjoyed, and at its best use, sweating under an unblinking sun, in a foreign land, dancing in a forest clearing.

Daily Prompt: Strike A Chord


Today’s Daily Prompt: Do you play an instrument? Is there a musical instrument whose sound you find particularly pleasing? Tell us a story about your experience or relationship with an instrument of your choice.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the thousands of hours I′ve spent with it, a few times over the last ten years I have taken a mental step back and viewed my instrument, the electric bass, with defamiliarized eyes.

Broken down, a bass is four metal strings stretched over a beam of wood, whose vibrations are converted into an electronic signal. It’s just moving your fingers in complex patterns to make different pitches. And this can be said for every instrument; music is just vibrations, as Bob Marley and The Wailers nearly said. But why is music, this thing, such an institution, such a big thing, and not just to me, but to the rest of the world? Why does it carry such cultural weight?

I don’t know. I have no chain of logic at my disposal (I suppose a psychologist or music therapist might) which I can use to explain this jump from thumping on metal strung across wood to it being something that’s intrinsic to the lives of so many people. But I′m alright with not having this link.

At its best, the bass has been a part of how I see myself, and my way of being part of something bigger than myself. Walking in the footsteps of giants, whether in Flea’s take–off marks or the furrows ploughed by Cliff Burton, has been and continues to be a great feeling, as does writing my own material or contributing to the bands I′ve been in (some more so than others).

At its worst, the bass has always provided a benchmark which I have not always been able to reach. Over the years there have been several songs which I have failed to finish learning, and when I think of them every now and then I feel a guilty pang. One day they will be mine; the difficulty is making sure that day happens. And, in a neatly cyclical manner, the bass guitar helps me find that drive.

It’s never too long after I take a step back and look at my bass that I step forward and pick it up again. I have never actually lost familiarity with it, it’s just been something I′ve tried (and continue to try) to understand. It’s my corner, my stake, my way into the world of music. And if someone recognises it, that would be great. But just being part of that world is good enough for me.