he best moments on Growing’s Color Wheel are disruptions. Consider the opener, “Fancy Period.” In the first four minutes, the guitar-bass duo of Kevin Doria and Joe Denardo are enamored with pantheistic awe. They concoct waves of mammoth guitar drones crash against the cliff rocks, and a flickering synth harmony that steams in the air like a wet leaves in a hot morning sun. And then there is the cascading melody seemingly plucked by the hand of Steve Vai or countless prog-metal guitarists. Midway in the ascension to the heavens, the music abruptly cuts off as if losing contact from Earth—or somebody’s guitar amp has shortened out. Yet everything remains oddly harmonious—fragments of static sputter and slide between the stereo speakers while a majestic, violin-like guitar riff circles in the air high above.
Or there’s the odd final minute of the album’s closer, “Green Pasture,” which resembles a meteor shower hitting Eden. The band gets caught in a bipolar trance, veering between brief cathedral hymns and thuds of acid-rain distortion. Violent poetry is a theme here: just take a look at the album cover, which features a hand-drawing of blue-green particles dissipating over a hill-like terrain.
Disruptions are refreshing for a band best known as dronesmiths whose music stares at the sun for hours on end. Color Wheel continues in the general direction that Doria and Denardo traveled on their past two albums, but they also divert into welcome tangents. Growing’s often sublime 2004 album, The Soul of the Rainbow and the Harmony of Light was curious in how it balanced psych-metal bombast with quiet pastoral grace, and there was an odd connection between the searing deluge of pulsating guitar drones in “Anaheim II” and the storm-break of “Primitive Associations/Great Mass Above” that allowed a moment’s rest in the garden with field recording of birdsong and low bass drones to soothe drained nerves. While Soul sometimes risked being tainted with New Age sentimentality, even Color Wheel’s quietest moments are laced with a sense that everything could explode into white noise at any moment.
Color Wheel literally begins where Soul ends. “Fancy Period” opens with a loop of the same flickering, ecstatic synth harmonies that faded out “Primitive Associations.” Growing later employs the same synth patch on “Cumulusless,” a slightly off-sync and seemingly improvised duet between simple synth chords and echoing staccato guitar riffs that conveys both wonder and unease. More peaceful is “Friendly Confines,” where ringing guitar tones fade in and out of the ether and gradually fall asleep, even after a blast of guitar noise that streams down from the sky. “Peace Offering” is more memorable for its ending, where the duo utilizes electro-tones zigzagging about after a drowsy beginning. There are a few missteps here, though, namely when the band overindulges on an idea, as on the monotonous, foot-dragging drones of the 16-minute “Blue Angels.”
For best results, set your CD player to skip that track. Then at midnight, put on Color Wheel; crank the bass to 5, treble to 8, volume to 9; lay face-up on the ground; turn the lights out; close your eyes; and watch what comes next.
Reviewed by: Cameron Macdonald
Reviewed on: 2006-05-15