[Click play above to stream Zaum’s Eidolon in full. Album is out Oct. 24 on I Hate Records.]
From field recordings of rain falling and birds calling to chants, throat-singing, drones and tones that ring out like bells calling one to prayer, the prevailing sense of worship in its two extended tracks comes to define Eidolon through and through. Presented across two sides — one cut per, both listed at precisely 21 minutes long — the second full-length from Moncton, New Brunswick’s Zaum arrives via I Hate Records (tape on Superbob) and is coated in a meditative vibe.
The duo showed patience a-plenty on their 2014 debut, Oracles (review here), and on the 2015 Himalaya to Mesopotamia split with Shooting Guns (review here), and “Influence of the Magi” and “The Enlightenment” fall in line stylistically with Zaum‘s prior work in their Eastern inflection and post-Om roll, but sprawl they present in Eidolon‘s 42 minutes brings the band to a new level of headphone-ready, open-consciousness expanse. Each track works to establish its atmosphere — “Influence of the Magi” in its stone-walled drone, “The Enlightenment” in birdsong and horn-esque synth — and when bassist/vocalist/sitarist Kyle Alexander McDonald (also synth) and drummer Christopher Lewis crash in on both, it’s merely an extension of the ambience they’ve already put forth.
It’s not jarring. It doesn’t surprise. It just is. That’s the level of ritual Zaum enact throughout. It’s a hypnotic sensibility distinct in some ways from psychedelia, but benefits from some of the same effects on the listener, and it becomes hard to tell just how much McDonald and Lewis are letting go here — whether the unfolding of “Influence of the Magi” is steering them or they’re steering it. One way or the other, it makes the first four minutes or so of the opener, just before McDonald‘s central bassline kicks in, all the more exciting as a setup for what follows, which in turn, does not disappoint.
Of course, once the full breadth of “Influence of the Magi” kicks in, the direction the song will ultimately take becomes clearer. Forward, and forward slowly. The layers of bass and maybe-sitar/maybe-synth, the swirling echo around the call and response vocals, and the gradual plod of Lewis‘ drums, all come together to create the impression of a march — the pilgrimage is underway. They break for a time just before 7:30 in and let the bass and drone hold sway, but it’s not long before the next chanting chorus and verse emerge. Already their trance-state has been attained, and the roll that plays out satisfyingly maintains it in both atmosphere and consistency of rhythm.
In its makeup, I guess it would be fair to call even the heavier stretches of “Influence of the Magi” drone, at least on some levels, but at its most active it moves far, far away from minimalism, even if it’s intent on returning there sooner or later. At about 12:00, Lewis and McDonald once again break, this time to a longer span of drones and chants, and they return at 14:30 with harder-hitting impact and gruff vocals — not quite growls, but definitely in a more shouting vein. The apex. It carries through a final chanting chorus and “Influence of the Magi” caps its grand span with flute sounds, more droning and residual noise on a long fade into silence.
As “The Enlightenment” begins, one can’t help but be reminded of what Montibus Communitas have been able to bring to their interpretation of psychedelic folk through the use of field recordings, birds and running water and the like, but Zaum‘s take is more foreboding almost immediately, though the pattern that emerges is ultimately familiar to “Influence of the Magi,” even if the transition from the extended intro — also arriving shortly after four minutes in — is more fluid overall. When it gets going, side B moves somewhat quicker than did side A, or at least that’s the impression, but pace doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Give up your expectations. Quit your job and move to the forest. Build a temple by a river and spend your days naming the gods who live in the trees around you.
It’s hard to know where one element ends and another begins in “The Enlightenment.” McDonald‘s vocals are a far-back swirl of semi-spoken reverb, and one can dig through the mystic fog of incense and find bass, and of course Lewis‘ snare cuts through as it would — punctuation no less invaluable on “The Enlightenment” as it was on “Influence of the Magi” — but in terms of some of the layers and what’s synth, what’s drone, what’s chanted, what’s sitar, it becomes a challenge. I wouldn’t want to speak to Zaum‘s intent, but it seems reasonable to think that’s the idea.
The idea isn’t that the listener sits and tries to pick apart each aspect of Eidolon, one layer, one wash at a time, but that the listener does exactly the opposite and lets the album carry him or her along with it on the journey it has undertaken. “The Enlightenment” holds more tension in part for its (relative) uptick in tempo, but trades between sections of drone and heavier push, manipulated sitar taking hold as a from-the-ground-up build sets the stage for a here-and-gone crescendo, disappearing behind low end and McDonald doing a better take on Cisneros-style singing than most.
It goes only to rise again and give way again in an ebb and flow that gives way to a reemergent swirl that acts as a capstone leading to “The Enlightenment”‘s outro of sampled thunder, flute sounds (synth, most likely), and a similarly patient end as that of “Influence of the Magi,” only with a clap of thunder, rainfall and birdsong as the last thing one hears — far, far back by then — as the album finishes out. That might be Zaum‘s way of easing the turn back to conscious reality — in which things do matter, you do have expectations, and building a temple is very, very difficult — but it’s still a considerable return to make when they’re done, which speaks to the quality of immersion they proffer throughout Eidolon.
What can be heard throughout these two pieces, in the end, is Zaum actively working to establish themselves as a unit separate from their influences. They’re exploring different textures and spirits within the music and finding out what works to represent their atmospheric expression. Given the effect Eidolon can have when one gives oneself over to it willingly, I think they succeed, but I would not be surprised to find McDonald and Lewis continuing to expand their sound going forward, and look forward to the worlds they may continue to conjure.