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Members of The Vibe

Kranky's Latest Albums Harvest Full Drone Crops

Jennifer Daniel

By Michael Byrne | Posted 2/20/2008

Atlas Sound, Valet, and White Rainbow

Washington's Black Cat Feb. 21

The vibe children have taken over the Kranky record label. A fresh wave of them: blurry-eyed artists making fiercely transcendental electronic music that stretches into a whole number of things--pop, blues, folk, ambient--and brings it all back into a thrumming little world of loops and endless sustains. If music is energy, Kranky has built its own unique grid with the collection of Atlas Sound, White Rainbow, and Valet.

It started with Deerhunter. Almost exactly a year ago, Kranky released Cryptograms, an occasionally fantastic record of swirly punk songs submerged to varying degrees in sludgy/sparkly ambient drone. As unlikely a breakout as Godspeed You! Black Emperor's 2000 Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, Cryptograms is likely the biggest thing to happen to Kranky since its 1993 inception. As an added bonus, Cryptograms also made a bit more sense in the Kranky universe. At its heart it's a vibe, a sort of New Age punk, which could sum up much of what has been shaking out of the label's astral dreamspace recently.

None of it really sounds like Deerhunter, of course. Culminating in this month's Atlas Sound's Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel--the solo debut of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox--this past year has seen the label fully embrace this vibe, artists making the audio equivalent of Ativan--yet none of it really sounding alike either.

Even Atlas Sound doesn't have much to do with its parent. Cox has apparently found a happier place without his band. If Deerhunter was writing drone music imprinted with the spirit of Iggy and the Stooges, Atlas Sound is making drone music that nods to Brian Wilson. It's terminally blissy stuff that sounds like what nitrous oxide feels like. Every time Cox's Casper the Friendly Ghost-like vocals echo--and most everything does, at least a little--on album standout "Recent Bedroom," it feels like those vocal iterations are a couple yards closer to heaven.

While Deerhunter likes to change costumes through its music, splicing styles in a way that almost feels disjointed, Atlas Sound melts them, leaving something far more meditative and, yeah, vibe-y. Cannot Feel's drones happen all of the time, a softly hued ambient undertow that leaves even its sharpest moments feeling as if seen through half-closed eyes. The lead track is a sample of a kid reading a ghost story--titled "A Ghost Story"--that essentially becomes the subject of the tale as a fog of rough-around-the-edges drone drifts over everything. It's a de facto introduction to the same fog that you become so accustomed to over the next hour that not putting the disc on repeat is to risk some sort of withdrawal, or risk waking up, which is the same thing in this case. The main exception--the one thing that doesn't drone in the proper sense--is a track called "Ativan," a slow rock number that sounds like the closest thing Cox could ever come to writing a love song.

While ostensibly a solo project--Cox wrote and recorded everything on Cannot Feel--he enlisted an apt band for his current tour. In addition to Nudge frontman Brian Foote and Stephanie Macksey, Cox has Adam Forkner and Honey Owens--White Rainbow and Valet, respectively--by his side. On a profile level that could be considered nonexistent by Cryptograms standards, both artists made fantastic Kranky debuts last year, with Valet's Blood Is Clean--a brilliant album of mostly instrumental psych-drone haunt that is, yes, very much so blood red--grabbing a spot in City Paper's year-end Top 10.

With next month's release of her follow-up, Naked Acid--if you haven't figured it out yet, we're dealing with hippies here--Owens has topped herself and then some. Blood was arresting and punchy in certain moments--nothing more than the slightest change of mood, or the eventual resolution of an epically dragged-out musical idea--which were few and which felt perfect at the time. You never expect to be anything more than hypnotized by vibe music. Naked Acid, however, is nothing but arresting. She isn't going for cheap shots here--excepting "Fire," which sounds like a really, really good Jana Hunter song . . . with a lot of delay--but the sheer mind-fuckery of these tracks places them firmly outside of the yoga studio.

The seven minutes of "Drum Movie" pass like 700 pages of suspense/mystery fiction. Its root is an undulating drone--more swells than ripples--but surrounding it are these phantasms of Owens' voice ghosted into some sort of pocket dimension and a bass line that calls the song back every time it starts to drift away. As she hinted at with Blood Is Clean and particularly with her old band Jackie-O Motherfucker, these are blues songs at their root, blues songs vaporized into an ether of sizzling, acidic guitar lines--"Kehaar," particularly--delayed so much you can't keep track of any one sound's root and morphing into a slowly ricocheting drone. "Fuck It" is pretty obvious about its roots, delivering a guitar line that starts off so unaffected it could be a Louisiana-born sample, at least until it turns into a piece of aural razor wire about five minutes in and the track races into drum-fueled noise-rock cacophony.

Forkner, also Owens' boyfriend, is an unabashed, over-the-top freak known in White Rainbow form--his past projects included [[VVRRSSNN]] and Yume Bitsu--for 20-minute live improvisation sessions typically based on a hand drum, his voice, guitar, and a whole lot of looping and delay, and not in the obnoxious one-man band kind of way. More than any artist this writer's met, Forkner believes fully in the idea of music-as-energy. Past performances have verged on installation art with Forker making drones for hours on end in mobile "vibrational healing centers"/"zomes"--a word that might mean some floating intersection between "zone" (as in, out), "home," and "love."

His Kranky release, last October's Prism of Eternal Now--he's not joking about this shit--captured it all perfectly. Tracks range from the grinning pulses of hoots and hand drum of "Pulses" to the full-on 15-minute tectonic Budd/Eno-esque space ride "April 25, 11:14 PM." "Mystic Prism" is an energetic track of rolling wordless vocals and stretched-to-oblivion pitched guitar riff, but most of it falls into the meditation/healing category, lovely Laraaji-fashioned passages intended for inward gazing. And by the time you've climbed this far out on Kranky's vibe family tree, getting down is hardly an option.


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