SUN ARK RECORDS’ Sun Araw and Typhonian Highlife get 7.5/10 each

Sun Araw
Saddle of the Increate
Sun Ark Records

7.5/10

Typhonian Highlife
The World of Shells
Sun Ark Records

7.5/10

Two releases on the Sun Ark Records label showcase the latest from the highly prolific Cameron Stallones and Spencer Clark. Both artists take a highly experimental and improvisatory approach with, respectfully, Sun Araw heading west with a psych-jangle long-player and Typhonian Highlife producing a simulated soundtrack of mic’d up hidden nature like you’ve never heard (or imagined) before.

On Saddle of the Increate, Sun Araw dons spurs, jumps on horse with guitar slung over shoulder and yells “giddyup!” for a saunter through the American west. After mixing in some successful high-profile collaborations with Jamaica’s The Congos (Icon Give Thank, 2012) and New Age pioneer Laraaji (Professional Sunflow, 2016), lo-fi So-Cal musical auteur Stallones returns for his 8th album as Sun Araw. Keeping with his themed albums of late, this time it’s a ride across the deserts and mountains of the wild west.

The tracks lope along, with some twangy and lap steel guitar lines, and obtusely cowboy-themed track titles and lyrical fragments laced throughout. Spurs, 40 Hooves and standout Hop Along literally conjure the dusty trail with clip-clopping percussion, cowbells and whinnying horse-like effects. Stallones uses his voice on the new LP, as for previous releases, largely as an instrument, usually heavily awash in echo and delay. But on Saddle he more clearly exhorts the tracks forward with some rough hewn denim-clad beat poetry and an occasional good ole’ caterwaul.

A more contemplative, spacious Sun Araw sound began with The Inner Treaty (2012) and previous release Belomancie (2014). Saddle of the Increate strips back the instrumentation further, with the density of sound akin to a tumbleweed forming a pleasantly-shaped large structure but made with an intricate network of skeletal elements of dried stems and leaves inside. It’s this expansiveness of space inside the songs that lets the 12 tracks included in this double-LP spread out over 75 minutes to take the listener on a meditative rustic exploration of the plains of the mind.

Many tracks take a slower, unfettered pace, with Stallones announcing on the trail-weary Spurs, “A dead dog ain’t no help…where I’m going. Mercy. Well, I’ll take it easy! You and me? We’re going to keep it easy. Mercy, Mercy. Mercy-me, and mercy-you.” Saddle-slouching tracks rise up throughout the album, and on these tracks Stallones’ fascination with the empty spaces – especially the spaces after the notes and percussion ring out – are especially evident. Such tracks included here are opener A Golden Boot, Spurs and Campfires, and Belomancie’s excellent Remedial Ventilation is an example of how effective this preoccupation with negative space can be.

As the journey continues, some sonic detours into possibly drinking from a poison well or a peyote trip appear on numbers such as Slope of the Geryon and Two Creeks with some entertaining freak-out results. But the course is righted along the home stretch as a couple of longing ballads are followed by, surprisingly, a cover of Bob Dylan & The Band’s 1968 classic I Shall Be Released (entitled Release here) – appearing like a mirage at first, but then as the song takes shape in Sun Araw form it makes perfect sense in the context of the album’s long voyage. The title of concluding track On Plateau riffs on 2010’s breakout album On Patrol, pointing towards a distinctive method and mind at work.

New listeners to Sun Araw may find the ride of Saddle of the Increate a tad bumpy with the occasionally jarring sounds, or result in some saddle-soreness over the longer tracks, but Stallones’ intuitive, excellent guitar work, percussion clanging and yelping on display here belie a restless creative spirit who has yielded to the charms of the plains with an intriguing LP for the like-minded traveller.

The LP version features Stallone’s distinctive ‘found photograph/video still’ + designer sketch-like visual style that accompanies all releases and videos, some of which are on display on his Second System Vision Instagram account (‘ssv_fieldstudies’), and see the links for the videos below.

Cameron Stallones

Spencer Clark

Spencer Clark is mostly known from his collaboration with James Ferraro in The Skaters, but has continued their avant-explorations as a solo artist, including his third outing here as Typhonian Highlife. The World of Shells LP (originally out on Kraak Records, 2016) gets a fresh re-release on the Sun Ark Records label in 2017 for those who missed it the first time around.

Here the sounds are positively organic, with the synths and samples gurgling, squelching and belching, with many tracks overlaid with grandiose organ chords, flutes, chimes, shimmering strings and synths. Guttural vocal samples intrude, providing an animistic tribal presence as well. Several track titles allude to biological themes such as Nano-Zootypes In A Tenctonese Exhibition Tank and Wah Wah Day Gecko Gecco (a favourite), whereas some titles simply baffle – The Startled Gaze of the Chitahoori and Zenith Umbaba-Xeno.

Although the tracks are beatless and can feature smooth synth lines, the sounds are far too restless and kinetic to classify as ‘ambient’ or New Age music proper (in other words, probably not something you want to put on in the morning with a hangover).

Clark shows how if you’re truly going to go off the grid, it doesn’t necessarily mean you end up in noise, but with Shells it sounds rather something more akin to a soundtrack to Kurt Russell’s Ego character/planet in the latest Guardians of the Galaxy release, or Jim Woodring’s Frank comics. The sounds are somewhat familiar, but with an unsettling yet invigorating strangeness to them. If not from another planet, then at least an Earth we rarely encounter with our regular faculties.

Closing track, the 15-minute World of Egret nudges towards neo-New Age with strings, harps, flutes and choral samples, but with a shared twitchy, bioactivitity heard in the previous tracks to keep you alert that there’s something alive lurking beneath the surface.

Clark maintains his highly experimental approach he has throughout his work, and is not afraid to let loose the ecological id on this release. For more left-of-field listeners of shows such as Perth-based RTRFM’s Golden Apples of the Sun, The World of Shells will surprise and delight, whereas for others it may only serve to clear out the unwanted house guests. In any case, this original work constantly entertains throughout and rewards immersive listening.

PAUL DOUGHTY

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