Erik Amlee - Afternoon Dream (Mandragora/Fire Museum Records CD) / Paradise Camp 23 - oTo (Mandragora CD-R)
Erik Amlee is a name I'm not tremendously familiar with, and you might not be either, but I suspect you'll be hearing it more and more in the coming days. Not to say I'm the first on the bandwagon - apparently Amlee has been creating psychedelic in one form or another since the late 80's. Cracked, Voodoo Mechanics, Paradise Camp 23...any of that mean anything to you?? Well those are the guises under which Amlee operates, sometimes solo and sometimes with a revolving door cast of contributors. And that's not forgetting that in his "spare" time Amlee also operates this Mandragora Records label and the Weirdsville! WebRadio internet show. Phew. Dude's busier than a pretty busy dude who has a lot of things on his plate. Anyway like I hinted at before, Amlee's raison d'etre is hitting on psychedelic notes in all their forms - and nothing shows that finer than these two very diverse albums. The first is obviously Amlee solo, and you could probably tell from the cover art that it's riddled with sitars and acoustic guitars - classic psychedelia, no? Paradise Camp 23 seeks out the trip in other, darker corners, and seems particularly interested in the drone as drug of choice. Hey, whatever it takes to get you to the other side is a-OK by me.
A couple years back Erik put out two solo sitar CD-Rs which received some pretty heavy praise from the likes of Foxy Digitalis and Aquarius Records and all those good folk. So "Afternoon Dream" appears to be the culmination of those efforts, the first true blue debut sitar recording. And I must say, it's quite nice. Most interesting about Amlee is that he's entirely self-taught. So suffice to say he doesn't bend any hour-long raga classics, but what he does throw down winds up working well all the same (plus they're all improvisations, so you gotta sling some credit there). The first track "Pulse Quickens" is a wonderfully-delayed 10-minute soupy sitar workout, with Amlee playing patiently and letting the notes drift off into orbit before he returns his fingers to the strings. "Entering the Mist" sounds like its title as Amlee juggles (that is, overdubs) guitar and sitar into a very peaceful and perky ditty. The same technique is repeated for "Organic Sympathy", a track that benefits from a seemingly rough (or at least unpolished) production job, microphone in the middle of the room style. "Float Upstream" is another lone sitar number and sounds probably as Eastern as Amlee is ever going to get. He says he's got no professional sitar training but I'm hesitant to believe it after hearing this one. The penultimate "Melting Trees" is almost surprisingly harsh, as Amlee plays rough with his heavily-effected sitar, forming thick and caustic webs of brazen muddled trance, surely the psychedelic experience he's been searching for all this time. "Between Space" is the last track, and curiously enough it's the exact same length as the first track - 10:54. For the most part Amlee plays it quiet, though on the whole it sounds dirtier than the first one. There's quite a bit more activity on the strings but never so as to be disruptive - the perfect cut (and album) for getting down to some serious afternoon dreaming indeed. If you're fan of Six Organs or Emerald Cloud Cobra or Magickal Power Mako or John Fahey or Sandy Bull or Steffen Basho-Junghans or Ben Reynolds...well you've got nothing to lose with this one.
Paradise Camp 23 is certainly the harder act to get a read on. This is actually a reissue of their very first c60 all the way back from 2001. "oTo" has one track (titled "Theory Megatron", curiously enough) riding out at just under a half-hour. As I understand it, PC23 on this release is Amlee, his wife Aleda Jonquil, and a friend by the name of Nate Longcope. The inner sleeve of this disc boasts an impressive list of buzzwords accompanied by how they relate to the music - cubist, psychedelic, magickal, noise, multimedia, improvisation. I must confess I can't really hear much of that on here - cubist noise I think I could fathom though. Anyway the brunt of this CD-R is weirdo transmissions coming through from the other side as pitched through an 1800's ham radio, with various other stations being picked up and fuzzed out along the way - there's the clatter of percussion at one point, voices come and go, sometimes you can hear actual strings being plucked, looped soul samples (I think)...but it's all lost just as quickly as found in the foggy industrialish wash. Maybe I should search out the group's later recordings and try to figure out where they ended up but for the most part "oTo" comes off as slightly amateurish Nurse With Wound/AMM/Maurizio Bianchi clatter. And who knows, maybe that's just fine by these cats.
While there's nothing ass-blastingly new on either of these two discs, they're both nice enough efforts - particularly "Afternoon Dream" which I would recommend to anyone into that sort of thing without even a second though. I'll give a little leeway to the Paradise Camp 23 disc since after all it was their first and all that good stuff. Anyway the Mandragora site seems chock full of oddities you and I have never heard of and they're most all at low low prices, so I encourage you to skim through and see what you can turn up for yourself.