Plays Music For Airports LP
(Big Ego Records)
Whatever you think you should expect from the Plays Music For Airports LP – Psychic Temple’s third album, chronologically – you’re going to discover that you’re wrong. First, the recently released vinyl record is a limited-press reissue; Plays Music For Airports originally came out on Joyful Noise Recordings in 2016 between Psychic Temple II in 2013 and Psychic Temple III which was originally released in 2016. This new reissue of Plays Music For Airports is a limited pressing of five hundred copies. Second, while Minutemen bassist Mike Watt played on the album (which will probably draw a fair bit of interest in both punk and alt-rock circles) guitarist Chris Shlarb is the one who composed the album in addition to being its primary creative mastermind. All of this information is handy to have while listening to Plays Music For Airports because, even on first listen, the music proves to be absolutely captivating and those who experience it will immediately want to know where it came from.
As soon as needle catches the groove in the A-side of Plays Music For Airports and its title track (which is the only cut on the side) opens the running, listeners’ interest will be sharply piqued as keyboards begin to build gently but dramatically. As the song builds, every instrument appears in the mix methodically but clearly – an impressive statement for a jazz number performed by an eleven-piece combo – and listeners will find that it takes no time at all to become fascinated by the experience. The restraint that every member of the ensemble employs to build a clear and vibrant image in the collective mind’s eye of listeners is both undeniable and impressive. The sound is meticulous and tight and, while no musician’s individual performance leaps out from the rest to command the most attention, listeners will feel an enduring excitement after the sixteen-minute epic of an A-side closes. Listeners may be genuinely surprised to discover that the A-side was only sixteen minutes long because, in fact, the sound is just so lush and moves so fluidly and so well.
After “Music For Airports” lets listeners exit from its metropolitan soundscape, they’ll discover that the B-side song, “Music For Bus Stops,” doesn’t allow them to stray far from the forms developed in “Music For Airports,” but the obvious change of focus is significant. Right away, drummer Tabor Allen increases the energy and the vibe of the music with a rhythm that really makes the music move well; suddenly, it feels as though Mike Watt’s bass has something to bounce off of and move with, and Schlarb as well as the rest of the band respond in kind; while the A-side of the album makes the most of a new kind of classicism, the B-side gets in deep with a jazz flavor which also incorporates elements of urban music. There is a smoother, there is a smoother, more street-walking and urban sense in the rhythm of “Music For Bus Stops,” and that simple shift completely redefines the play of the side. David Tranchina’s double bass (it’s easy to tell the difference between Tranchina’s instrument and that of Mike Watt – Watt’s style and electric bass cannot be mistaken for Tranchina’s performance) helps call to mind images of subways and images of urban travel while Kris Tiner’s trumpet and Curt Oren’s baritone sax bring to mind the smells of a downtown bustle which never relents; every time one player closes off to take a breath, another takes up the movement seamlessly. Further in, Philip Glenn’s Hammond organ and Cathlene Pineda’s Wurlitzer add a bit of vintage classic rock flavor from which no Doors fan will be able to turn way too. Listeners will notice that the movement is fluid and unending; every turn feels like a street corner where the vibe changes, but the instruments don’t disappear – they just mutate slightly.
In the closing moments of “Music For Bus Stops,” Allen finally slips hit collar gets off the leash and just lets his senses and sensibility run free over his drum kit. The result is spectacular; listeners will find the drummer’s fluid but meticulously contained runs and fills impossible to deny, and they’ll happily enjoy the freedom that the drummer finds very literally for the side’s final minute before, finally, the side ends exactly the same way it began – and then the needle lifts.
Stepping back from it, there’s no doubt that the two sides of the Plays Music For Airports LP play very, very differently from each other, but they also fit together incredibly well. That sort of complimentary energy really helps listeners remain engaged with the music and, after listeners have run front-to-back with the record, they’ll find themselves energized to do it again, right away. No record can say that it normally has that kind of energy (how often can anyone really say, “I don’t know what I feel like listening to today. I know – an instrumental jazz record by an otherwise untested composer!”), but Psychic Temple’s Plays Music For Airports LP has it. [Bill Adams]
Psychic Temple’s Plays Music For Airports LP is out now on Big Ego Records. Buy it here, directly from Chris Schlarb’s bancamp page.