Laser Bridge to Eagle City
Click to hear: “Winter’s Walk”
Joungleur’s Soundtrack (2 of 5)
A Bottled Squid Musiques
Click to hear: “A Naked Smile”
It’s not often than two local psychedelic albums cross paths on my desk, but such is the case with the debut full-length by Citadelle (formerly Citadel) and the second of a series of five CDs by Pal. Given this coincidence, it seemed only natural to pit these releases against one another in a no-sitars-barred, psychedelic basement showdown to crown the ruler of Portland’s psych scene.
Pal is obviously the reigning champion. Though he gigs infrequently these days, the solo artist is two decades and a half dozen or more albums deep into his recording career. [Read our review of the first installment of Joungleur’sSoundtrack here.]
Citadelle, by contrast, is an upstart, a project begun on a whim a couple years ago by buddies Barry Burst and Ben Gatchell. For Laser Bridge to Eagle City the pair have since recruited a third member, guitarist Sterling Black (great rock name, by the way), but have been unable to secure the talents of a steady drummer. They’re moving to (where else?) the San Francisco Bay area before the snow flies again.
The local indie scene has been buzzing about Citadelle since last year on the strength of a couple songs posted on its MySpace page. [See Jeremy Skehan’s rapturous review of “Love,” and David Pence’s take on “Forest of Eyes.”] The same scene has all but forgotten Pal, who was blowing minds around town before Burst and Gatchell first flew the marmalade skies.
Citadelle comes out swinging with the opener “Winter’s Walk.” A cacophonous intro that sounds like the inside of a hashish tent in a sandstorm sets the mildly menacing mood that permeates this album. Some wicked rock riffage follows, then melts into a gently rolling passage accented by tambourine and flute. The pace picks up again on the bridge to the chorus, and soon Burst is screaming, “I can’t hide my hate for what you do – yeah!”
It’s fantastic, but by now you’ve probably noticed something else: this recording sounds flat (it ain’t just your computer’s crummy speakers). There’s nothing charming or retro about the lack of sonic depth here, and that’s a buzz-crush, since the compositions themselves are well-crafted and dynamic – most move from mellow out to freak out and back again with ease. The homemade, unmastered mix doesn’t do the songs justice.
Pal isn’t spending his rent money at Gateway, either, but after years of solitary tinkering and refinement, his home recording technique yields a richer, deeper sound. Then again, Pal’s psychedelic stock-in-trade is stacking layers upon layers of treated vocals and instruments until the song becomes a swirling, hypnotic hallucination.
The second installment of Joungleur’s Soundtrack kicks off with “Vehicle,” a surreal, seven-minute musical circus. Pal will milk a single riff or melody well past the five-minute mark if you let him. The repetition either gets the hook in your head or under your skin, depending on your particular ear. Mine found “Vehicle” hummable, though certain liberals would consider it a violation of the Geneva Conventions to play it for enemy combatants. The next track, “Love Lies Like Bone Through Skin,” is catchier, but its chorus, like its title, is trying.
The next three songs on Laser Bridge have the same drawback: beautiful, breezy verses burdened by relatively clunky choruses. But the fifth track, “Lifeboat,” rocks from the start, with a nice psych-pop bit tucked in at the end.
The rest of Citadelle’s record gets progressively stranger. “Kandy Town” is half cock-rock, half acid trip. The queasy “Coffin” could be an outtake from a Cerberus Shoal album. And the title track is really an elegantly damaged intro to the closer, “Sidetracked By Satan No. 5,” in which a lilting melody is sidetracked by snippets of a noisy jam.
Like the first Joungleur’s, only half of the tracks on its follow-up are listed. The mystery material includes a throwaway instrumental called “7 Basses” (Pal provided titles by request via e-mail), the lovely and melancholy “Candle (This Dangling Conversation),” and a medley of short, pleasant pop-folk numbers that Pal says are part of a cycle of over 30 two-minute songs called “Scratches Up On a Kiss.”
Pal gets psychedelic credit for even conceiving such a song cycle, and bonus points for burying it as the unnamed fifth track. The real triumph, however, is “A Naked Smile,” the third song listed by title. It clocks in at an even nine minutes, but this mini-masterpiece earns every second. Pal drops the edginess in his voice and lets the melody ride off into space, where alien instruments plink and echo, an organ swells over the loping bass line, and a distorted guitar squawks in the distance. This song is psychoactive.
The winner? Citadelle rocks harder and writes more accessible material, but Pal’s album sounds better and is altogether trippier. It’s a close call, but since Citadelle is leaving town and Pal has committed to sticking around for three more installments of his bizarre soundtrack, in my book, he keeps his crown.
– Chris Busby
Pal has no Web site, but can be reached at email@example.com. Citadelle’s MySpace page is myspace.com/bandcitadelle. Both albums are in local record stores now.