The sibling duo explores psychedelia with 'Sorcerer'
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The mainstreaming and commodification of psychedelia has been one of the most radical influences on music over the last few decades. But try and articulate what makes something actually sound "psychedelic," and the definition becomes murky.
For some, true psychedelic sound exists only within the tape loops of the Beatles' "Revolution 9" or a genre-bending King Crimson jam. But the descriptor is just as easily applied to modern radio-ready groups such as Tame Impala or MGMT, which begs the question, what does psychedelic music mean when its current incarnations are so removed from its radical roots?
The band Tonstartssbandht (a made-up word pronounced tahn-starts-bandit) has a simple definition for psychedelic music, which only further confuses the genre. "I would describe psychedelic music as ???be careful what you wish for,'" drummer Edwin White says in an email.
While that doesn't clarify much, the band's sound serves as a bridge between chart-topping psych-pop and the heady, freewheeling experimentation favored by small but fervent fanbases.
The Orlando, Florida-bred duo, consisting of brothers Andy and Edwin White, has defined and redefined its own versions of psychedelia over 17 albums since they started playing music together in this project in 2007. The White brothers first played music together as teenagers when they started out playing Beach Boys covers. After embarking on an ambitious effort to re-record Smiley Smile in its entirety, the White brothers scrapped their plan and decided to further flesh out their own ideas.
Tonstartssbandht's discography functions like a microcosm of psychedelic music's evolution. The tracks on their debut release, Water Buffalo, dive right into lo-fi weirdness with droning piano compositions and vocal experiments that sound like the chantings of Gregorian monks who just split a mammoth dose of psilocybin mushrooms. The tracks on their latest record Sorcerer don't quite reach the opposite extreme of tight, polished pop music, but they embody all the changes that happen when two friends brothers with an intimate sense of musical communication record and perform relentlessly over a decade.
"For Sorcerer we wanted to get some sort of ???definitive' and slightly more succinct captures of some of the material we had been jamming live," guitarist and singer Andy says. "It distinguishes itself from our previous albums by being mostly live-tracked in the same room and having mostly the same instrumentation on all three tracks.?
Sorcerer rests in between the Grateful Dead's blues-inflected boogie and Spaceman-3's pensive, repetitive droning. The record features only three tracks that clock in between nine and 13 minutes in length, yet they avoid the slogging, meandering jams that plague many psych-bands who rely on extended improvisations. "Breathe" opens the record in a patient manner as Andy slowly builds up a slinking, soulful guitar line while Edwin lays down a fragmented groove. Andy introduces his soft, echo-drenched crooning as he sings, "Breathe and know you're forgiven/Screams so peculiar to the living."
After the first soft vocal lines, the duo are rarely content to sit still. The rest of the track branches off in a dizzying array of side trips as Edwin's drums burst into a rhythmic flurry that's somehow tightly-wound and unpredictable. The vocal melodies are surprisingly catchy, revealing Tonstartssbandht's subtle pop sensibilities. Just when the layers of frenetic guitar noodling and breakneck drumming reach a breaking point, the track deconstructs itself, dissolving into an unsettling drone.
The emphasis that Krautrock groups such as Faust or Neu! place on using repetition to create mood and atmosphere is part of Tonstartssbandht's musical dynamic. However, the duo has an impeccable knack for feeling out when a groove is about to overstay its welcome and diverts to a completely different rhythm. None of the tracks on Sorcerer drill listeners with repetition. And even though the constant diversions sound as though the band is trying to surprise itself a difficult task after releasing 17 records Andy insists this is not a conscious effort.
"I don't think that we have worked to specifically direct our songwriting process," he says. "This band is a self-motivated project! If it's not naturally interesting or exciting, then it's probably not gonna happen." Sorcerer also puts Andy and Edwin's intuitive communication skills, the band's greatest asset, on full-display as they shift between loosely defined motifs in lock-step.
The record achieves the impressive task of unifying their jarring early experimentation with the cohesive, infectious grooves characterizing their more recent material. In that way, Sorcerer is a kind of connective tissue in the legacy of psychedelic music. Even if Tonstartssbandht doesn't make the genre's definition any more clear, Andy and Edwin's ability to merge the esoteric with the accessible makes it all the more exciting.
Tonstartssbandht plays the Earl on Tues., June 27. $8. 8:30 pm. With Shepherds and Newark Wilder. 488 Flat Shoals Ave. S.E. 404-522-3950. www.badearl.com.