In the grand tradition of albums consisting of sidelong tracks, The Middle Path ranks among the best. How great is it? On the level of the latest opus by Decimus (NNCK’s Pat Murano), Tangerine Dream’s Zeit and Ash Ra Tempel’s first LP. Taking collage rock to college, band leader Adam Payne and drummer Matthew Clark present their loftiest contribution yet to the out-rock canon. They let their freak flag fly high, but with a disciplined air. “Bush Pij / Sometimes” starts with a bulbous, stunt-rock charge that evokes first-four-albums Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and the heaviest parts of Focus’s Hocus Pocus. After working the listener into a lather, Residual Echoes downshift into a bong-breaking interlude featuring Payne’s nonchalant, deep-voiced plaint: “Why does it seem so hard? / … / Sometimes people make a fool out of me.” Such woe is swept away by headbanging passages full of torrid, florid guitar solos and the kind of explosive drumming that makes fans of Bill Ward and Keith Moon paradiddle all over themselves. Later, an ominous tolling redolent of Sonic Youth’s “Halloween” conjures a beautifully haunting, desolate comedown. What a trip. But this is mere warm-up for “A Marriage,” the pinnacle of Residual Echoes’ career and one of 2013’s most excellent and action-packed tracks. It begins like the greatest facsimile of “Hallogallo” one has ever heard (and there have been many): motorik bliss boogie with flute gently fluctuating in the airstream, bolstered by burbling bass, gull-cry guitar and nipple gongs. Around six-and-a-half minutes in, things get incredibly anthemic in a Meat Puppets Up on the Sun way. Bonus: The guitar solo at the twelve-minute mark flares and curlicues like Wayne Rogers on the world’s best trucker speed. Near the end, a strangulated feedback concerto carries the listener bewilderedly to the runoff groove. The Middle Path turns out to be the righteous route.
After returning to their native state of California from a national tour, Residual Echoes went in to the studio immediately, for their most cohesive effort yet. California is comprised of four songs. "White Cloud" and "Julie Patchouli" could be called "pop songs," and they are rock and roll to the fullest, but they are ensconced in luscious, freak-out arrangements further enhanced by a select group of special guests. The second side of the LP is a suite dedicated to the state of California complete with references ranging from the construction of the railroads, the natural beauty of the land and the mating rituals of elephant seals. It ends with a distorted take on Los Angeles via UK-colored glasses with the title track which erupts into epic, pulsing, skronk-raunch riffs that cease to abate for the duration of the song's 10-minute length (all the while making references to summer, SST records, earthquakes and helicopters flying through the streets of Hollywood seeking out pillaging Slayer fans. Really. It's all there).
Phoenecian Flu And Ancient Ocean is another seething mish-mash of psychedelia, krautrock and free-noise — the perfect follow-up to last year’s highly regarded self-titled debut LP. Partially self-recorded and partially recorded in the studio, Phoenecian Flu and Anciet Ocean is full of absolutely staggering material. The endless riff-santiy of “Death Comes for the Archbishop” is followed by billowing smoke, then a fuzzy-wuzzy pop number that finally shoots itself when the smell of smoke turns out to be an amp that was on far too loud for far too long. That piece of reverbed noise insanity might’ve been all were it not for the depraved psychedelic dub and Monoshock tribute that follows. Odes to the acoustic guitar and former gods of the six-string close the album. What does it sound like? Everything and nothing, baby.
Residual Echoes was formed by Adam Payne after he moved to Santa Cruz and met Ethan Miller (Comets on Fire) and Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) who both encouraged him to strike out on his own. The band makes a vibrant collage of everything that has ever happened in music, all deftly manipulated and manicured by Mr. Payne into some of the most farfreaking- out jams ever heard. Santa Cruz, California-- known for abandoned military bases where rumors persist of strange mind control experiments a la Montauk-- is an area that was at one time the "serial killer capitol of the world." I know, I missed that sign, too. Anyway, you've got these mountains full of getting- away-from-the-city-type cults and communes rife with pure magical evil and ritual sacrifices. Whoa, Maury Terry; hold on there, Preston Nichols-- what's this got do with a high-energy psychedelic rock band? Have you heard about these experimental drugs that afflict enemy soldiers with intense halitosis, or cause their hair fall out, or the one that makes everyone super-horny? This album is like a really small dose of that kind of drug.