By Andrew Tanner.
Space Is Still The Place – The Bright Light Social Hour (Frenchkiss)
You could almost forgive them for George W. While the Lone Star State gave us The Decisionator, it’s also gifted music lovers with a laudable roll call of innovative, boundary stretching acts that have helped define and extend rock music of all kinds over 5 decades – psych, alternative, prog and beyond. Just a list of the most obvious would include 13th Floor Elevators, Sir Douglas Quintet, Red Krayola through to Tripping Daisy, Butthole Surfers, At The Drive In and The Black Angels. Whether it’s the water, the cactus juice or a reaction to ‘good ol’ boys’ culture Texas has a proud history of serving up stirring revolutionary sounds.
You get the sense that Austin’s The Bright Light Social Scene place themselves unapologetically in that lineage. And to leave a listener in no doubt as to their intent, they’ve given a heads up in the album title – Space Is Still The Place.
Whilst the title is a nod to jazz icon Sun Ra’s filmic and musical oddity ‘Space is The Place’, TBLSH’s set is far from a homage to space jazz. Instead they take the basic building blocks of rock and construct a compelling soundscape of guitars alternately shuddering and glistening, vocals drenched in Leslie-like modulation, futuristic electro washes and fractured time signatures that keep you guessing.
The band – Jack O’Brien, Curtis Roush, Joseph Mirasole and Edward Braillif – certainly take their music as seriously as any Coltrane acolyte. According to O’Brien in a Huffington Post interview the album forms itself around the idea of a ‘Future South’ – a reimagining of conservative Texan culture as ‘a place of radical change’ and a physical and metaphorical state that ‘has a role to play in pushing the political and cultural conversation of the country forward’.
If that sounds a tad idealistic and a little po faced, the music itself is brimming with energy and excitement. Pedalling between Black Keys-like garage blues to jerky alt-rock to slicker ambient grooves, Space never sets itself down in any territory for too long.
Angrier, finger pointing rock tracks like ‘Ghost Dance’ and ‘Ouboros’ bring the ruckus, the former’s super-fuzzed helicopter guitars presaging some kind of apocalypse, the latter a claustrophobic bad trip that eventually falls in on itself. ‘Dreamlove’ provides respite from that impressive wall of sound with sweeping keys and bubbling sequencers. Fans of Tame Impala will enjoy the timeless psychedelia of ‘The Moon’ and opener ‘Sweet Madelene’ – desert rock dosed with the heady experimental spirit of the 60’s.
All the sonic exploration is kept under fairly tight rein however, and fans of old school rave ups have to wait ‘til album closer ‘Escape Velocity’ to experience an eight minute plus epic that ends in a joyful, balls out band jam.
The Bright Light Social Hour mark themselves as dedicated to their calling, displaying an almost naïve belief in the power of music to alter consciousness – to create, in the words of one of their tracks ‘cities without limit’. Art rocking Texan hippies? Now that’s the sound of a Future South we can all wave a flag for.
Stream the full album: