[Farflung release their new album, 5, via Heavy Psych Sounds this weekend at Freak Valley 2016. Click play above to stream it in full.]
They’ve hardly been inactive in the interim, but 5 marks the first studio LP from Los Angeles space rockers Farflung in eight years. Released by Heavy Psych Sounds, it follows 2008’s A Wound in Eternity (on MeteorCity) as well as splits with White Hills, Black Rainbows and Fatso Jetson (review here), among others, and finds the long-running outfit past the 20-year mark since their debut, 25,000 Feet Per Second, came out in 1995. Through the bulk of that two decades, Farflung have coursed through the cosmos thoroughly underappreciated for their efforts — similar to split-mates White Hills, who started later, they seem to have found more of a foothold in Europe than in the US.
But 5 brings renewed vitality in its nine miniaturized interstellar voyages/43 minutes, all songs but the opening three under five minutes long but with a significant breadth all the same, dripping in effects and spaced far enough out that the scale of “far out” only seems to begin to cover it. Some vibe can only be measured in parsecs, and with the band comprised of Tommy Grenas, Michael Esther, Paul Hischier, Abby Travis and Chris Nakata with guest appearances from Hawkwind‘s Nik Turner, David Catching and Gene Troutmann (both affiliated with Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal), Farflung‘s vibe pushes outward from the moment of its inception until it closes with the almost tribal krautrock thrust of “The Retreat,” as progressive as it is lysergic.
Naturally, they are right at home in this expanding sphere. “Hive” opens 5 — which by the way is upwards of Farflung‘s eighth album — and is the longest cut on it at 6:53 (immediate points), acting as intro for itself and the record as a whole with its emergent swirl in the first minute that soon launches into kosmiche boogie instrumental save for some buried vocalizations. The push is everything. They’re not quite aping Hawkwind at the outset, but the thrust of the first half is clearly-enough working to break through the atmosphere, which “Hive” seems to do and float for a while in its second half before resuming its outward crunch. Effects start “Proterozoic” as well, but a more forward structure takes hold, with lyrics delivered in echoing deadpan over double snare taps for a garage rock feel that takes off its in chorus.
That hook turns out to be one of the strongest on 5 and is followed by a long stretch of hypnotic, resonantly psychedelic drone and effects near the finish, which sets up the more earthbound riff opening “044MPZ,” with a kind of New Wave synth line underscoring its verse and a sense of space in the chorus behind interweaving echoes. Synth and Echoplex add fluidity to a languid solo, and though it seems like Farflung have hit the point of no return from whence the only thing to do is continue to jam, they turn back to the chorus before shifting into less-plugged acid fervor. “044MPZ” is the crucial third in the aforementioned longer-tracks opening trio, and what follows from there on “27th Sun” and side B read like reports checking in from the various worlds Farflung have visited along their way to wherever it is they might end up by the album’s end.
“Lupine,” the centerpiece, calls back to “044MPZ” in its tone, but with a change in vocals (is that Turner?) that marks it out immediately ahead of the shorter “Being Boiled,” which has a more brooding take. Waves of guitar and repetitive robotic chants position “We Are” as something of a landmark, but at that point it’s really more about the wash in its entirety than any single element — all these layers drawing together to create something immersive and entrancing. Slower and more centered around low end, “Dismal Jimmy” is nonetheless among the trippier offerings on 5, and almost enough to make one wish Farflung hit the brakes more often, but while the penultimate inclusion, it also stands as reinforcement of the fact that as far as the band has to that point journeyed, they’ve still got the warp drive geared toward who the hell knows.
And if you’re looking for that answer in “The Retreat,” good luck. Resolution comes in cinematic percussive drama backed by the ever-present swirl, and is less about making the album preceding more accessible than showing that Farflung could probably keep it as well as all of the ideas presented before it going into perpetuity. In that way, 5 feels somewhat pared down, like these tracks were carved from longer jams during the songwriting and shaped into what they are with effects and layers of keys and synth and so on, but that shouldn’t be taken as an indication that there’s anything happening here other than exploration, since that very much remains at the heart of what Farflung have accomplished on this welcome return.