Thursday, July 22, 2021

Time will go and you're free

Yesterday was gray and rainy, the perfect weather to further indulge in one of my favorite records from the past year. 11:11, the Kundalini Genie's latest release, is a mind-bending trip of heavy psychedelia, a soundscape journey into interior states propelled by loud, fuzzy guitars, mammoth drumming, and airy vocals in dreamy arrangements, the sound saturated and reverb-rich. Chord changes come as if moving underwater, keyboard flourishes arrive like glimpses of high-flying birds, cymbal crashes move in slow motion, drum fills spill unhurriedly like men gamboling on the moon. I'm new to the Glasgow, Scotland band, and was in a local record store when an employee played this album. Crate digging, I found myself swallowed by the opening track, "Mantra," its blend of sitar, rock and roll backbeat drumming, and loud, driving, searching guitars riding atop a drone for seven astonishing minutes. I was utterly transported by the experience of listening—as the best music does, it altered the environment I was in—and after the full album played I bought it on the spot.

The epic sound on 11:11 is created by Robbie Wilson, the primary songwriter, on guitar, bass, drums, percussion, keyboards and vocals; Jack Getty and Jason Shaw pitch in on guitar, bass, and vocals. (A larger collection of Genie musicians come and go, and fill out the sound on stage). The tradition the band mines is clear, and has been maintained before them in various textures since the second half of the 1960s in numerous psychedelic and neo-psychedelic bands and movements. To my ears, the clearest source on 11:11 are the trippy, guitar-heavy songs John Lennon wrote and recorded with the Beatles in the April and May of 1966. "Tomorrow Never Knows." "I'm Only Sleeping." "Rain." "She Said She Said": these psychedelic masterpieces are sonic templates for Wilson, who filters Lennon's passive, dreamy plugged-in perceptions through his own harmonic sensibilities, drenching them in contemporary, but sympathetic, production and presenting them new again. (His voice sounds uncannily like George Harrison's in places, too.) Lennon and Harrison's guitar sounds in particular seemed to have really galvanized Wilson: 11:11 is a deceptively loud album, or sounds great when cranked, anyway. 

My favorite song on the album is "Sunrise," a dimensional, and surprisingly moving, track. For all of Wilson's gentleness, there's an icy remove to much of 11:11, the songs' dwelling in interior states and extended, languid musical passages bordering on late-Pink Floyd styled self-absorption—gorgeously rendered absorption, it must be said. But the seven-minute "Sunrise" feels different. It begins against a characteristic lazy strum and yawning pace with an invitation from the singer to dig his mind, to lose the sense of temporality, as he does in his nightly "silver dreams," until the morning brings sun, a freeing journey of colors and textures. Against spacey keyboard washes and epic reverb, the last verse appears:
'Cause when I lay down in my bed
I never feel as though I'm alone
'Cause all my friends, they're in my head
And I know they'll never let me down
So just leave me alone flying up in the sky, don't you know
I'm happy there...can't you see?
It's everything you want, you just have to believe
It doesn't matter how long, 'cause time will go and you're free
And then you'll see...
For all of the song's irresistible, narcotic-like entreaties, that line about friends stops me: the singer will never feel let down by his friends because they exist only in his head, where he's happy though eternally alone, defining that peace in part by the faithfulness of his friends who aren't truly there with him. The paradox is startling, and melancholy, sharp-edged in the midst of the pillowy dreamscape that the song conjures. It's brilliant, powerful stuff, and surprising, and like the best discoveries in a song, it subtly changes, or puts in revealing context, everything you heard before and after it.


Robbie Wilson
Is the end result solipsism or is it Oneness that the singer drifts slowly toward? "Sunrise" doesn't satisfyingly answer that question, though Wilson, in a recent inteview with Klemen Breznikar at It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine, explored the possibilities and the difficulties of the ego. "Basically my understanding of ego is that it’s your lens through which you experience the material and sensory world," he said. "Having said that, I, like everyone else, have it within me to be extremely egotistical. A trait you need to be in touch with to be able to create good art. That said, like anything, it’s a tool to be used and put away when you’re finished with it, (I believe), and so it can be dangerous.If you let yourself get carried away it can cause all sorts of problems, you need to be able to take it off like a jacket at the end of the day or you’ll spend your life in a constant struggle to satiate it, which of course, by it’s very nature it never can be."
...Do what you can, if you even make one small change to improve your life, the lives of those around you and the planet, then you’re doing it. The only issue is consistency, you have to consistently be able to ‘take off your ego’ and try to act from a position of empathy consistently, it’s not enough to do a few good things. You have to make it part of you. When you do that, things happen, there’s a force like gravity in the universe, maybe it’s karma, that notices that and suddenly doors are open that were once shut, a path starts to reveal itself and you know it’s what you have to do. It doesn’t have to be massive, just something. It has to be you. No one else can.
He adds, "Psychedelic by the very definition of the word (Psyche: ‘the human body, mind or spirit’. Delos: ‘the bring forth, to manifest’) means the human spirit manifest, and so the type of people who are attracted to it are often people who are aware of this, and the infinite variations of it in their own personal lives and viewpoints."

Though thoughtful and articulate in his songs, Wilson chooses to give the English philosopher Alan Watts the last word on 11:11, literally. The final song—the epic "You Had It All"—closes with a two-minute snippet of a recording of Watts, date and source unknown. As the musicians hold and gently riff on chords on a keyboard, Watts espouses on birth, death, and the infinite oneness of all creatures—"And wheresoever beings exist throughout all galaxies, it doesn't make any difference, you are all of them"—ending with amazement at the fact that humans need not be aware of this miracle: 
You don't have to know how to shine the sun, you just do it. Like you breathe. Now doesn't it just astonish you that you are this fantastically complex thing? And that you are doing all of this and you never had any education in how to do it? Never learned, but you're this miracle? The point of it is, from a strictly physical, scientific standpoint, this organism is a continuous energy with everything else that's going on. And if I am my foot, I am the sun.
Watts's generous and startling way of seeing the universe and the unity of all creatures moving through it, arriving as it does at the end of the album as a kind of clarifying dawn, marks 11:11, a remarkable collection of songs about the human spirit that evoke the furthest edges of insight and invite us along on the journey.

Photo of Wilson via Psychedelic Underground Generation

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