Somewhere, at some point in time, somebody gave one of the two members of Austin, Texas, psychedelic newcomers Sungod a copy of Nebula’s To the Center, and it’s a good thing they did. The duo (doesn’t anyone have a bassist anymore?) have taken this heavy, grooving influence and stretched it out as far as it’ll go, abandoning for the most part the aforementioned band’s penchant for catchy choruses in favor of wide-breadth atmospherics on their Cyclopean Records debut, First Matter. The album’s five tracks follow a reverse-parabola structure, starting long, getting shorter in the middle, then longer again at the finish, but there’s more to the flow than nifty toying around with the track list. Sungod worship at a number of altars and their sound — in no small part thanks to liberal guitar layering — is surprisingly full for an act without a full-time bassist.
Comprised of string-section Balentine and drummer Sharp, Sungod traffic in a heady, open-spaced instrumental heavy psych, marked by guitar passages so lyrical I had to go back and double check there weren’t vocals on them. Nine-minute opener “The Key is No Key” starts with striking feedback and hard-pounding rhythms. Balentine takes this as a basis for layering reverbed guitar explorations, but keeps a solid foundation underneath. Sharp’s playing is strong whether during these freakout jams or the more straightforward intervals from which they’re birthed, and on the acoustic-led “Under the Golem,” the organic ambience of the song is only enhanced by the various bells and chimes present. On the centerpiece title-track (also First Matter’s shortest song at 3:46), the drums go on a half-backwards tape loop Dale Crover spree of intermittent hits punctuating feedback from Balentine, drones and noises of several other shapes and sizes, so you get some sense of diversity in listening to the album in more than just basic sonics.
“Blanche of Castle” is pastoral psychedelic bliss made even more summery by the almost constant cymbal play. It’s like something Earth might attempt after a really good meal, but somehow less droning and more exploratory than that seminal Seattle outfit’s most recent work. Balentine keeps the guitars on the move, even if they’re peaceful, and the subtle bass-drum hits from Sharp add a sense of structure, albeit a loose one. Leading into 22-minute closer “Inkailmeva,” it’s a quiet setup for a song that contains all of the above elements with room left over for some extra bombast and even a smoky, late night Hendrix blues jam about 13 minutes in that eventually brings the monolithic piece to its riffy, satisfying conclusion.
If nothing else, what the track proves is that Sungod, while obviously playing with a focus on spontaneity, are also capable of enacting a plan with a song, and in so doing, to vary their sound even more. First Matter is well within the bounds of modern heavy psych, but the Austin duo work ably in the genre confines to pull of an album that’s still their own. I’d be intrigued to see the layering approach of Balentine and Sharp live — not that it couldn’t be done, it would just require setting up a lot of loops — and if hearing First Matter is what piqued that interest, then the album has done its job.
Tags: Austin, Cyclopean, Sungod, Texas