Astral Social Club – Fountain Transmitter Meditations

3 out of 5

Label: VHF Records

Produced by: Neil Campbell (?)

This is: excellent. It’s also a lot of music – 100+ minutes – and while only 2 out of its 8 tracks (4 of which are 20 minutes or so apiece) are maybe beyond the pale for some of our tolerances, that’s also 25ish minutes of such music, which is enough of a chop to that excellence, and a slowdown of the album’s flow, to leave an impression that hangs over the whole album.

Now, I did say: “for some of our tolerances,” because of course, when it comes to experimental music, there’s stuff that’s more palatable to certain ears than others – I mean, music in general, but I can call a band a punk band or an arena rock band and you get the wheelhouse, but experimental has a lot of latitude – and for me, ASC’s repetitive noise workouts on a couple of tracks here push it in to boredom territory. Drone works for me when it’s a bit more spread out; rackety stuff like Grisly Terroir starts to wear thin after a minute or so.

Elsewhere, though, Fountain Transmitter Medications is quite brilliant. ASC – Vibracathedral Orchestra’s Neil Campbell’s solo nom de plume – has several different “modes,” and they’re all given expression here, first in relatively compressed bursts on the vinyl’s A-side, then done as a badass medley on the B-side, and then each given an expansive spotlight on the hour long CD accompaniment. Because of that cycle, I would say this is all very much one album, it just stretched beyond the confines of a single format.

Kicking things off as the blast of a million synths – Infinity Thug. While this touches on the noisier aspects of ASC, it’s not repetitive. Thug is an incredibly rich track, and a fantastic way to bring us in from the somewhat similar Vibracathedral sphere. Phantom Transmitters flips the script to something more minimal. Still very electronic in sound, but building off of some clipped, looped effects and adding touches of other noises at select moments. Squeegee Anthem #2 is then more of a live sound, with vacant chants and an organic buildup of blissed-out psychedelia.

Grisly Terroir closes out the A-side, and, as hinted at before, here’s where one’s patience might be tested. There are things happening in the background of this track, but the repetition of a super noisy synth line is what’s in our face, and it’s hard to dig for the other effects. This is actually moreso the reflection of the other difficult song – the opener to the CD, Sun Still God, which is the 20-minute version of Terroir, but with the background even more buried. It’s pretty mindless, to me, and I get impatient listening to it.

Before we get to the CD, though, the LP’s B-side has Diamonds in the Dreich, which opens with an absolutely punishing organ-like crunch, seeming like it’s following that noisy precedent (and is maybe why Grisly is a lead-in, as Diamonds’ opening is very, very atonal, so perhaps we’re getting prepared for it), but the the song transitions to a quieter, vocal-chanting midsection – ASC’s minimalist sound – before unleashing a storm of rock-out clatter in its fantastic final section, guitar soloing and everything.

This track has its reflection in the equally outstanding Squeegee Anthem #3, which closes the CD, and in the middle, we get the CD’s extended take on minimalism, with Erotic Mediation. At 26 minutes, this can also be a bit of a stretch at points, but because it’s a bit more paced and quiet, it’s much easier to appreciate the little blips and bloops that are added along the way.

Appreciably sequenced to break all of this stuff up, Fountain Transmitter Medications nonetheless has a fair amount of music that, for those of us not so down with blankets of noise done at length, can be a bit of a grind. Surrounding that, though, there’s a ton of brilliant experimental psych to keep us coming back.