Microdot Gnome, Low Flying Bird/Julian Hades: Space in the Fourth Dimension

Released on his brother Van’s newborn Strange Earth Records, the 7” single Low Flying Bird b/w Julian Hades from Gary Lee Conner’s Microdot Gnome casually reminds of the pop roots in psychedelic rock. The former member of Screaming Trees self-released a full-length under the Microdot Gnome moniker last year called 4D Sugarcubes, and with this follow-up two-song outing, he brings to mind Beatles and Floyd and joyfully engages blissful tones without leaving behind a sense of structure to do so. Both “Low Flying Bird” and “Julian Hades” are sweetly toned and melodic, and the current they follow is more revivalist than retro. Those inducted into the cult following of Screaming Trees will take immediate interest in Microdot Gnome based on Conner’s name alone, but there are some sonic likenesses there as well, and Conner is in full control here, showing a range of instrumental prowess – harpsichord, mellotron, guitar, bass, drums, vocals – as well as engineering and mixing the tracks in his home in San Angelo, Texas. Of course it’s a 7”, so there isn’t much time to really sink into the Microdot Gnome aesthetic – these are pop songs, besides – but Conner manages to evoke an atmosphere in the eight-plus minutes he presents, and to give some idea of where the project is headed stylistically.

As to that direction: just about any way you want to look at it, it’s backwards. Even to listen to “Low Flying Bird” on side A and hear elements from the Screaming Trees discography and that puts you more than a decade ago. That’s not to malign the work – clearly Conner’s intent with Microdot Gnome is to forge something new for the present out of these influences from the past, and in that he’s successful – it’s just stating a fact. In the 10 years between Screaming Trees’ breakup in 2000 and the release of 4D Sugarcubes, Conner was completely silent, so expecting him to follow that album with something wholly groundbreaking isn’t fair anyway, let alone something wholly groundbreaking in the genre of traditionalist psychedelic pop, in which half the point is found in that first word, “traditionalist.” The “Taxman”-esque 1965 rhythm that starts “Low Flying Bird,” with horn swells punctuating the end of verse lines and quick snare pops adding to the upbeat feel, finds its appeal not in its originality, but in what it does with familiar elements. Conner works a solid chorus and fills out the arrangement with mellotron and swirling layers of guitar leads, and though he’s never completely out of control, there’s enough happening in the song to make it exciting as he presses beyond the last chorus to the quick finish.

If “Low Flying Bird” does anything, it’s set the expectation for straightforward pop rock structuring (it’s almost garage-y sounding), so that “Julian Hades” finds a more lush and floral take on Microdot Gnome’s Beatlesian sprawl is something of a surprise. Organ notes puff-puff behind hi-hat, harpsichord and Conner’s patient, confident delivery of the vocal melody. He leads the verse with a repetition of the title character’s name (à la the lyrics to “Eleanor Rigby” and many others), which acts as a chorus in itself and winds up being one of the most memorable characteristics of the song, but it’s when the chorus brings the harpsichord in that the song finds its real hook. A brief break of what reminds of sampled tape loops leads to a more active reboot of the verse and faster concluding chorus. Conner repeats the name over a guitar solo, saying goodbye, and “Julian Hades” enters a fadeout with a drum fill that acts as last licks. With so much of psychedelic rock bent on deep-space jam explorations, it’s exhilarating to have Microdot Gnome act as a reminder of the style’s pop origins, and for fans of Screaming Trees, a relief to hear from Conner after so long. Microdot Gnome will no doubt find some profile because of that connection, but “Low Flying Bird” and “Julian Hades” are both of quality enough to stand on their own.

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2 Responses to “Microdot Gnome, Low Flying Bird/Julian Hades: Space in the Fourth Dimension”

  1. Milk K. Harvey says:

    I thought he’d become invisible. Here’s a man with a clear sense of the classic and the sufficient craft to give birth to one pop dittie that after only one listen lingers for hours.

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