Were it not for the fact that Golden Void are fronted by guitarist Isaiah Mitchell — also of Earthless, whose name already lingers with an underappreciated mystique despite the fact that they’re still touring — their self-titled Thrill Jockey debut (available on “baby poop yellow” vinyl) would probably just be another excellent showing of organic heavy psych in a sea of same. The kicker is that but for the weight and profile Mitchell‘s pedigree brings to the new San Francisco-based four-piece, not to mention a few killer guitar solos, the two acts have very little to do with each other. And as turns out to be the case throughout the seven tracks/36 minutes of Golden Void‘s Golden Void, that’s a big part of the new band’s appeal.
In Golden Void, Mitchell is joined by bassist Aaron Morgan, drummer Justin Pinkerton and keyboardist Camilla Saufly-Mitchell, and though his guitar playing remains a defining factor here as in Earthless, its purposes are markedly different. Earthless was for a time and probably still is the strongest American presence in jam-based heavy psychedelia worldwide (Tia Carrera, from Austin, also come to mind, albeit on a smaller scale), with sprawling extended tracks ranging through and past Hawkwindian space. That influence shows up here and there on Golden Void as well — it would almost have to, as the band are named for a Hawkwind track from 1975’s Warrior on the Edge of Time — but the songs are not epic classic rock jams, they’re regular songs, with verse parts, chorus parts, and most of all, with singing.
Mitchell proves a more than able vocalist throughout Golden Void‘s debut, doubtless to the surprise of many who might have assumed Earthless stayed instrumental out of some lack of ability rather than an aesthetic choice. Opener “Art of Invading” pits a grunge-style (think vague hallucinations of Soundgarden) against Saufly-Mitchell‘s melodious keyboard, warm basslines from Morgan and Pinkerton‘s natural, popping snare, rising to a grand but still unpretentious apex that sets the course for the rest of the album. Highlights persist in the thicker “Virtue,” the dreamier Hendrixian airiness of “Jetsun Dolma” and the rising tensions of the early push in “Badlands” — best performance of the album from the rhythm section, who drive it — and pretty soon it’s apparent that you’re more than halfway through listening and there hasn’t been a clunker yet.
I suppose on some level that should be a surprise, but it isn’t really and becomes less of one with repeat listens to these songs. Someone good at something turns out to also be good at… that thing… in a different band. Fair enough. Mitchell puts an album’s worth of soul into the solo of “Jetsun Dolma” as the band builds up behind, and the pop-minded organ sounds of “Shady Grove” bring out a late-’60s psychedelia in a way that continues Golden Void‘s streak of individual identities within the cuts. So too do the closing duo of “The Curve,” which revives the distorted shuffle of the earlier “Virtue,” and the ’70s prog of finale “Atlantis,” the longest track at 7:47 and perhaps the strongest statement of purpose Golden Void make on their debut offering.
“Atlantis” caps with memorable self-harmonizing from Mitchell, as Saufly-Mitchell (who one assumes is his wife; the bio doesn’t say), Morgan and Pinkerton drop out, leaving the vocals to underscore this as just the beginning of Golden Void showcasing their creative breadth. They are as naturally flowing in the longer track as in any of the others, which hover between about four and a half and five and a half minutes, but it’s that last showing of progressive ethereality that really sets the band up to expand their sound next time out. I wouldn’t be surprised to find more such layering in future works, and if Mitchell is to continue Golden Void either as a central- or side-project, then the band already has one collection of songs to its collective credit that lives up to the formidable legacy preceding them.California, Golden Void, Golden Void self-titled, San Francisco, Thrill Jockey Records