Clustersun - Surfacing to Breathe

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-05-19

Apparently, 48% of Americans believe in ghosts. And 18% have had personal experiences with specters of some kind. My initial take on Clustersun’s Surfacing to Breathe was that it sounded a lot like The Cure circa Faith or Pornography. I half expected to hear Robert Smith sing, “It doesn’t matter if we all die.” Now, I really like those albums with all the reverb, doom, gloom, and huge canvas of ghostly sound.

I say this because my friend, Kilda Defnut, upon hearing Faith for the first time (on vinyl no less in 1981) looked at me and said, “This sounds like it was made by ghosts that aren’t really there, but you sincerely want them to exist.” She then decided to create her own theology which is loosely based on her love for books, music, and dogs. Her very first Sacred Maxim was “Ghosts can’t play rock music.”

Well, she had a point, and if your template for rock ‘n’ rock is the swagger in Paul Rogers’ voice as Free crank out “All Right Now,” or The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop,” or The Clash’s “White Riot,” this music won’t tickle your eardrums. However, if the aforementioned Robert Smith with his quote, “I thought we should be making music that was on par with Mahler symphonies, not pop music,” makes a lot of sense, then this record might just tickle the equally aforementioned eardrums.  And this isn’t just a Cure clone band. Ultimately, it is expansive and truly epic. It beams in from a solar system much more distant than Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” and along the way it makes pit stops on planets Dead Can Dance (with a lot of that 4AD sound), Echo and the Bunnymen, The Sound, Swervedriver (and the land of The Shoegazers), The Moody Blues (with the immense prog-psych of “Ride My See-Saw” or “House of Four Doors”), and even King Crimson with the mellotron laden weight of the title tune from In the Wake of Poseidon. So this is quite the trip.

This album does rock. It just chooses to shake the universe with a backbeat of epic proportions.  And, as I said, there is a lot to enjoy in a big way. The very first song “Raw Nerve” swirls behind an Andrea Conti’s huge drum sound with nary a cymbal sound to be heard. Mario Lo Faro’s guitars and Piergiorgio Campone’s keyboards churn up a batch of sonic concrete, while Marco Chisari sings his way through (to use a second distance analogy) dense leagues of deep water like a ghost from The Titanic calling out a caustic warning about hubris and icebergs. “Raw Nerves,” indeed!

It’s funny: My friend, Kilda Defnut, later recanted her Sacred Maxim I (see above) after hearing The Cure’s song “All Cats Are Grey” at the First Avenue music club in Minneapolis with the volume jacked to eleven plus. I guess it was a pulsing moment of rock ‘n’ roll afflatus. She heard ghosts making music. In that moment of remorse, she scribbled on a club napkin what was to become her Sacred Maxim II: “Whoops! I was wrong!” Yeah, she now likes that Cure album. And she also likes this record a lot.

Surfacing to Breathe never really manages to catch its breath. But specters don’t really need oxygen to live. One huge production of a song gives way to yet another big tune with very little respite. It’s sonic hyperbole in overdrive. There’s even some dark Joy Division stuff in “Antagonize Me.” Then “Whirling Dervish” starts as a typical Dead Can Dance song before it is torn open with a pretty great guitar solo that parts The Red Sea of thick sound. Hopefully, you get the picture. This is exciting music, with or without the Biblical allusion.

The poet William Blake ended his “Proverbs of Hell” with the phrase, “Enough! Or Too much.” Well, that bit of ironic caution simply doesn’t apply to this record. Didn’t Dylan say, “Keep on keepin’ on”? These guys certainly hold that creed near and dear to their collective hearts. The final song, “Event Horizon” is just wonderful gloom with melting guitars and heavy keyboards, and still not a cymbal sound to be heard. This is dark and early King Crimson stuff. It’s Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness stuff. In that book, Charlie Marlow finds a “flat piece of board with some pencil writing on it” that said, “Approach cautiously.” Sorry about all the allusions, but, yeah, you really should approach this record with a bit of Conrad’s caution because sometimes ghosts really can play a bit of rock ‘n’ roll music.

 

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