Sunday, December 14, 2014

BFD Review: Aquamarine Dream Machine's The Abyss Stares Back...

"Once you look into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you." - Steve Quayle



The Abyss Stares Back... is the latest release from Aquamarine Dream Machine. I put the CD in my portable stereo about ten days ago, and I haven't taken it out since. For good measure, I don't really plan to anytime soon. It's become as much of a part of my nightly ritual as brushing my teeth and falling asleep to Coast to Coast AM.

While ADM has been a favorite local band for several years now, I was a bit skeptical about how their music would translate from it's live performance to a recorded product. As it turns out, I had no reason to worry. The album sounds amazing, and to be honest I was surprised to learn that it was mixed, mastered and produced by the band's guitarist Daniel Wipf in his home studio. 

It's extremely crisp, with none of that behind the scenes white noise that you sometimes hear on home recordings. The instruments are layered perfectly and it's obviously been tweaked to bring out the ultimate sound.

Dan Wipf in his psychedelic glory. (Stolen from his FB page) 
Dan is a great guitarist and I have felt for a long time that he often gets overlooked when local musicians are brought up in comparison to one another. He belongs at the forefront of that conversation - not at the back. He delivers with the best of 'em, and his Robert Fripp/David Gilmour style leave most in the dust. He has no ego - something I love about him personally - just this egalitarian way of making huge power chords that shift like beach sands in strong winds. 

His voice has come a long way. Once perhaps a weakness due to vocal insecurities, he now delivers on point, singing at full throttle. And the way he bends his guitar around his vocals... he methodically spins you further into the abyss.

The album contains six tracks, all originals. The music transpires from the bluesy "Long Time Coming" to the heavy riff oriented "Feed the Beast" to the noisy propulsive "Divines" from which the opening seems to have been borrowed from The Who (think "Sparks."). The six songs flow freely in and out of each other with meticulous design - another aspect to the album that obviously took a lot of thought.

The tracks:

Long Time Coming

Chasing Ghosts

Feed The Beast

Divines

Good as Gold

Under the Gun

Dan and Justin sounding off. (Photo by Sarah Cartwright) 

Justin Kurtz's bass lines are especially noted on "Feed The Beast," where his snappy motoric rhythms propel the song into a kaleidoscopic rabbit hole. There's such an encompassment to his style that it's easy to forget that he's playing until all hell breaks out. By then it's too late to duck, because not only are the walls caving in, the ground is opening you up and swallowing you whole. 

Duly noted, Joe Antleman's piano work is outstanding on this recording. While Kurtz is creating sonic sink holes, Antleman is taking you over the mountains and far into the sky. His style is that of a surgeon, articulate and sound, flawless and precise. As a musician, he's one of those guys who can play anything, and each time he settles into an instrument, he becomes it's master. On The Abyss Stares Back... he captures each song with spirit-driven figurations that slide on a scale from classical Baroquean style to bluesy smoky piano bar. He takes the lead on "Long Time Coming" and never relents throughout the rest of the album.

Joe Antleman performs at 2014's 80/35 concert. Photo stolen from FB. 

Nikoali Charikov provides the beat jam for ADM. His rhythm sails on auto pilot as he criss-crosses the fast changing melodies with relentless physical geometry. As the walls cave in around him he constantly rebuilds them, as much as an architect as he is a musician. As the newest member of ADM, he doesn't leave any voids. One great musician surrounded by others, he is the accelerant that drives the pistons on this well-oiled dream machine. 

With Aquamarine Dream Machine, the songs always come first. They don't rely on a shtick or gimmicks to feed their nest, they let their music paint the portrait of who they are. They are a foghorn in the empty sea, an essential cog to the local scene. 

The Abyss Stares Back... is as substantial and significant as any record I've heard this year. It's a must for my collection, and it should be for yours.

You can catch Aquamarine Dream Machine at Vaudeville Mews on January 2nd.

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