Brightblack Morning Light
Brightblack Morning Light
wish I knew some hippies. Seriously, patchouli stinks to hell—though that may be that it’s usually a perfume for showerless weeks—but this tangled stoner rock is starting to smell like somnolence again. You know, the giddy color-bled high of not sleeping for two days or the heavy-lidded sludge into afternoon comedown. All sense scrambled by fatigue, tossed against late daylight and steamed in kangaroo milk—or whatever you have at hand (you and I may differ). Brightback Morning Light have the voodoo brew for that cauldron; call the longhairs to the drum circle. It’s time to make new friends.
While Fat Possum continues to muddy the water with its melding of caterwauled Son House with John Mayall’s psychedelic sinew, the indie boys make rainbow prism hay with the likes of Black Mountain, Dungen, and those stringbean starlets of what was once freak-folk (is it playboy-folk now, since the Times got involved?). Into this pit we now throw Matador’s Brightblack Morning Light, though the aforementioned strings ain’t really attached in their case. BML is more interested in wrinkled capes of space and intermission, allowing repeated chords and milky swales of sound and reverb, or the silence built into that noise, to lull the listener into compliance. With all apologies to allmusic guide, I’ve always hated the word ‘druggy’ as a catch-all for psychedelic music, but with Brightblack Morning Light, they leave little time for qualifiers: this shit is thick sap on the brain.
Bringing Thom Monahan—of Pernice Brothers fame—in for recording and mixing seems to have helped the band to perfect the sultry smokehouse feel of 2004’s Ala.Cali.Tucky. Brightblack Morning Light is an album that knows no restraint, and its palpable excess are the perfect fit for its first-light sensations. The record’s laid out almost like a fifty-odd minute heatstroke split by random blinking and passing out; each track comes haphazardly on the heels of the prior, and drizzles into the next without pause to line them up in time. Pianos seep into Nathan “Nabob” Shineywater and Rachel “Rabob” Hughes vocal moans, wet with Dramamine and fever-sweat; lyrics are not only indecipherable but completely unnecessary, like traces of gospel and religious fervor caked in Baptist mud.
Holding down the throng is the band’s talent for hypnotic rhythmic patterns—combining conga with basic traps and tables and blessed ‘Magik Hats.’ They want to skull you before they delight, but they use their percussion for both, from black-and-blue tom-tom patterns to quiet, nimble shakes of gourd. But when this repetition backdrop tests your patience, Brightblack Morning Light seems to sense their own lethargy and lifts its ass off the drag. Hughes’ simplistic Rhodes chords on “Everybody Daylight” dissolve into a flophouse of background intrigues, from flute to heated drum fills. As with much of the record, at times you have to endure some of their throwback oddities to see what’s behind door number two. Even that corndog Herbie Mann-style flute, itself such a strange respelling of the song’s progress, splinters into hand claps and congas, held against Shineywater’s curling guitar to eddy in rhythm and void.
Still, it ain’t all about the thump. Brightblack Morning Light fills their calmer sequences with assorted bells , ‘sizzle seeds,’ clarinet, etc. “Friend of Time”’s Southern dirge softens into a shimmering trombone solo, and “All We Have Broken Shines” manages to go almost cold turkey on the Dr. John voodoo kick with tropical guitar and breezy Rhodes patterns atop nifty gourd shakes. The gorgeous “A River Could Be Loved” whittles off the woodsy haze, allowing Shineywater to pillow his voice on only an organ and an upright, while the plops of percussion and distant clarinet of “Amber Canyon Magik” forego repetition for evolution.
But it may be “Star Blanket River Child,” the album’s longest cut at almost ten minutes, where the band best fashions their psychedelic touches to their ear for blunt, broadly-stroked blues composition; sounding like Mazzy Star soured on empty stomach moonshine, Hughes circles around Shineywater’s desert gasp with her Rhodes for three slow-trickle minutes, with Monahan stepping out from behind the knobs to ‘sizzle’ some seeds (blame the liner notes!), before the drums kick in atop a flange of noise. It’s the kind of concussive punch Isaac Hayes used to blow us down in “Walk on By” or Bo Diddley had down pat by his funk-fueled Black Gladiator period. And broken, shatter-brained, the horns begin to sizzle; heatstroke sets in again. Why are my lips orange? Who took my shoes? And why leave me only one sock? Jesus, look at how perfectly the world aligns in prostrate. Those crisp smooth lines; the telephone poles in too-right angles to the soil, the roofs, they understand isosceles better than I ever did. . .