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Neon Magus, Watching the Watcher

Album Review


Published July 14, 2010 at 5:12 a.m.


(Aether Everywhere, CD)

In the liner notes of their debut Watching the Watcher, Neon Magus offer the following explanation: “We found these sounds beneath the ash and sand.” And then, an advisory: “Play at maximum volumes, equipped with headphones.”

That’s good advice.

Freakout jams, sludge-metal riffs and tribal drumbeats propel the Burlington band through myriad crescendos and serve as the main ingredients in this psychedelic, post-rock stew. The sound is epic and overblown — like an explosion in your brain. But it is also intimate, as if Neon Magus are playing only for you. That duality was surely aided by renowned producer Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Godspeed You! Black Emperor), who recorded the band at fabled Montréal studio Hotel2Tango.

The 12-minute “Chakote” is an early highlight. It opens with vocalist and saxophonist Mollie Coons whispering in a made-up (I think) language, before a swirl of feedback and a tribal drum slowly work the song into a frenzy. There is no climax, however. Rather, the song oozes to a conclusion, as guitarist Will Ryan unleashes low, sludgy power chords and Parker Ryan’s wah-affected trumpet flutters atop, like a butterfly trying to escape an inferno.

The following track, “Sun Machine,” is aptly named, as a wall of sound explodes roughly two minutes in — hopefully from your jacked-up headphones. Exquisitely distorted chords underpin exultant trumpet blasts, sounding as if they could thrust the sun up. Another tirade of tribal beats and chants follows, this time concluding in a blast of punk fury.

After a slight lull in the two-part “Andromeda,” Neon Magus return with awesome might for the 13-minute closer, “Ceremony.” The track opens on Josh Laclair’s eerie synthesizers and thick, fuzzed-out bass drones from Dan Peavey. Meanwhile, Coons croons ethereally over the top. Another tribal section segues into a massive wall of distortion, with Coons again swooning gorgeously.

Like the album’s best tracks before it, “Ceremony” is made up of a series of beautiful moments that justify Neon Magus’ magical, luminous, ballsy moniker. And it is moments, rather than whole songs, that define Watching the Watcher. It would be nice if NM were better able to meld these moments together. But, while loaded with potential, this is still a young band. It is more fun to think they have stumbled upon something fantastic deep inside the earth, and now they need to learn how to use it.

Neon Magus appear at The Monkey House on Friday, July 16.