Saturday, July 19, 2014

Harmony Rockets - Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void

This is a repost from May 2008:

... Which brings me to Harmony Rockets, who released a single full-length CD in 1995 entitled Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void. The music on this CD consists of one single piece of music lasting 41 minutes and 40 seconds. One website calls it an "experimental album of epic proportions," and I would not disagree with that description. The band set up shop in a hotel in upstate New York and just played. They forgot about verses and choruses and beginnings and ends and scales and chords and keys and just kind of improvised some spacefreak music of magnificent proportions. Yet, there's some precedent for what they do: I detect bits and pieces of Sun Ra and even parts of the Velvet Underground's unreleased (at least in a studio version) "Melody Laughter."

But you don't have to know or care about that. How does it sound? For all of its so-called experimental nature, it actually sounds rather cordant (I know that's not a word, but I wish it was) and not at all cacophonic. The band--seven people--use guitars with massive effects, a rumbling bass, a saxophone that weaves in and out. A voice murmurs words and sentences for a while. It builds, it ebbs, at one point sounding like you're literally in the middle of a cyclone (in the key of C). The music slows down everything and puts your existence to total slow motion. Great to listen to while you're waiting for someone to show up. And the conclusion is like a reprieve, you feel the light sweat on your upper lip, as if you're just coming out of a dream. I highly recommend it for those who might be a little adventurous and have about an hour to kill late... late... very late at night.

Point of note for artifact fetishists: the original CD came in a beautiful package, with silver embossed writing on the cover. The CD also comes with a picture of the tape machine used to record the album. The liner notes say the following:

Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void was performed live at Rhinecliff Hotel by the group Harmony Rockets. It was recorded on a hand-held Arrivox-Tandberg 183 analog cassette recorder. Due in part to the out-dated [sic] nature (ancient by today's standards) of this machine and an inadequate P.A. system . . . periodic portions of the music undulate and appear to distort. . . . Thus, the sounds on this disc are unaltered, and remain true to the nature of the original performance.

An important point to make here is this: Harmony Rockets was basically a side-project of the much better-known band Mercury Rev who produced a bunch of great albums in the 1990s, including the classic Yerself Is Steam, one of the most insanely fantastic albums of that decade. Speaking of Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void, Jonathan Donahue, the lead singer of Mercury Rev, later noted, responding to an interviewer:

Donahue: It's mostly instrumental, but there's some vocals on the beginning of it, it's me singing. Basically, what it is, is most of Mercury Rev, that you see up there [on stage], were trying to kill a Friday night in the mountains, got really wasted and wandered down to a local Civil War bar. They needed an opening band, so we brought some old analog effects with us and some guitars and just whooped up whatever we were doing for, like, forty minutes and stopped. Somebody had a tape, figuring it was ya know, Mercury Rev, so they sorta recorded it shittily.
Interviewer: So, the entire album is live?

: Yeah, just made up on the spot. There's not a damn thing that was practiced ever, it just sort of happened, but it came out really nice. We like it, we were pretty surprised.

Looking up my trusty 1,088 page version of The Great Indie Discography (2nd ed), I see that Harmony Rockets released one other thing, an e.p.. That stuff is very very different from Paralyzed Mind: on the e.p. they cover "I've Got a Golden Ticket" from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and (of all things) Vangelis' "L'Apocalypse des Animaux." The music veers from disco to moody instrumentals. Not really worth tracking down.

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