Click to hear: [track seven]
With their most recent release, the local group Visitations deliver a perplexing, varied, and frequently beautiful disc.
The general climate of ambiguity and mystery that pervades these nine tracks is established even before the CD reaches the tray. All the tracks are untitled, as is the album, and no credit is given anywhere to musicians, producers or engineers. The disc itself is unlabeled, with the top identical to the bottom, and it took me a couple tries to get it into my player right-side-up.
It would be misleading to say things became any clearer once I got the music playing.
The electronic opening strains of the first track have a gorgeous lost-in-space feel. They hang in the air and wind around themselves for nearly two minutes, creating a floating, disorienting sensation before a purposefully plucked acoustic guitar drifts in, supporting some nonverbal vocals. From there, the song develops for another four minutes as various textures drift in and out. Radio static passes through, obscuring, then revealing, what sounds like an electric guitar and heavily processed female vocals.
Just as the ear becomes accustomed to what is, presumably, the tone of the album, the second track begins and clears the slate. Whereas the previous cut was sonically akin to a thick mist blowing through an indeterminate space, the second is a bouncy, guitar-driven affair that calls to mind a storybook forest scene, complete with small, mythical animals perched atop tree stumps. The group’s female vocalist is featured on this cut, singing a whispery, staccato, nonsense melody that bobs along above the rest of the instruments and eventually rises to a high, perfectly controlled wail.
The disc’s highlight is the seventh track, which I like to call “Down, Down Dinosaur,” for reasons I will explain shortly. This is another soundscape, like the first track, with a wealth of textures produced by who-knows-how-many different instruments swelling toward the front of the mix, then receding, and vocals punctuating the haze with sounds that probably aren’t words. As the track really hits its stride, about two-thirds of the way through, the female vocalist begins to repeat what sounds like, “Down, down dinosaur.” After a few repetitions, the primary male vocalist decides that those definitely are the words being uttered, and joins in. His confirmation prompts the female vocalist to reply with an enthusiastic “Get down!”
Now, “Get down!” is some pretty familiar lyrical territory, but the girl from Visitations manages to give the phrase a unique inflection that divorces it entirely from the rock lexicon.
So little about this album conforms to any identifiable musical template that attempts to understand it in comparison to other works are largely fruitless. It’s just as unproductive to try to separate out who plays what, but I managed to meet with one of the members of Visitations to get a basic idea of the personnel and instrumentation.
In keeping with the mystery that permeates this album, the fellow I talked to was unwilling to definitively say who was in the band and what they played. But he told me it was fine to mention that there are three members, two boys and a girl, and that the recording in question was from a live performance on the WMPG show Re S Dual Mang (which, incidentally is hosted by Skot Spear, who runs Mangdisc, the label that released this album).
The source was also willing to confirm that all nine tracks were improvisations. On this effort, as with any extended improvisation, there are moments that really shine, as well as those that serve mainly as connectors, marking time until the transcendent parts reemerge. There are moments when the players are obviously surprised and jubilant about what’s happening — and this is what really makes the disc for me. In one of the first few tracks, you can hear someone in the band erupt into laughter after a particularly odd sonic turn.
On the whole, the unique and appealing moments on this album outweigh the transitional ones, and make for an evocative, if confusing, listen.
— Galen Richmond