, October 6th, 2010 10:05
It's humbling being dragged backwards into the past by Peruvian spacerockers Serpentina Satelite [sic]. For a long time "culturally significant" psychedelia has stood for something that 'Isn't Anything'. Haze has supplanted surreal disorientation as psyche's core disposition, a state of nothingness and unfeeling is the new mind-expansion - rock on the tip of your tongue. Save the odd acid flashback like My Morning Jacket, if you take MBV as a year zero then relevant psyche has grown steadily more faint ever since. Yet across the Atlantic, 'old' psyche is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance throughout American hipsterism… which, as it happens, is a cult of irony that this Peruvian band have little truck with.
Although the press pack promises a conceptualist spin, the Julian Cope-commended Serpentina have little to do with cerebral distance and everything to do with the atavistic awe of paisley-prog. Luring thin-haired roadies to the cause, their mySpace maxim reads "Straight To Your Soul". Most likely it's their opinion that acid rock has for far too long been the preserve of the art-rockers, commandeered for the circulation of absent-minded malaise and vapourously uncatchable drone, i.e soulless to these particular South Americans. From MBV to Animal Collective, and even 'noiseniks' Fuck Buttons with their lush spaces, it's all been about repetition from within an azure translucence. Clearly indie isn't much of a concern in Lima.
Almost as a point of principle Mecanica Celeste begins mean and burly, with the ancient "um" of woodwind-like guitar complaints elucidating into something formidable and serpentine. The ensuing 'Fobos' – definitive of their tantric instrumentals - is assuredly corporeal; all lip-biting frettery, unyielding sustain, snare rolls and cymbal smashes. Emblazoned by a second lead guitarist, the languid strands of merging prolixity are resolutely like the good ole' boys used to make. A fitting visual would be a kohl-eyed supervixen, bare navel'd and swinging her sweat-dank hair in slow-mo, which goes some way to explaining the style's renewed popularity amongst twee-masculated males.
Their lengthy compositions go like this. To begin there's a slow build, followed by an upward climb with howling guitars and fibrillating, whistling-kettle electronics (for good cross-eyed effect a la their heroes Hawkwind). Then, to end there will be either some form of asynchronous cacophony or a writhing acceleration in tempo, or both. It's brilliantly cosmic, but all told, of the seven tracks it's the motorik-driven title track that best conveys a sense of travelled distance. If nothing else it's probably the most frenzied kosmische you'll hear this year, like The Wipers with six members and a peyote bulb the size of a baby's head.
In the final segment they aren't messing around anymore, with the continent's insatiable lust for metal come to the fore on 'Ai Apaec' and marauding closer 'Sendero', which is Spanish for 'shining light' and a reference to Sendero Luminisa, Peru's resident Maoist guerilla movement who have reaped havoc since the early 80s. Founded on martial drums and doom-tinged riffs, the track is either mobilized in league with the terrorists/freedom fighters, or expressive of the horrors the faction have afflicted on the Peruvian peasantry as collateral damage in their campaign.
With its wah-wah crunches - the favoured old-school trope of new purveyors White Hills - 'Ai Apaec' hits even harder. Channeling Lima's convergent geography, the tempestuous flange evokes a coastal city where the lethal wilds of the Amazon threaten from the East and the Southern tip of the Andes stretch all the way to the city limits. Here, and dotted elsewhere around the album, the exerts of Spanish-Catholic religious songs and Flavio Castillejos' portentous poetry insinuate ancient evil, like a foretelling of apocalyptic vengeance paid out by wrathful Incan spirits. In a way it's replacement for the Swords'n'Sorcery and pulp sci-fi mythology beloved of their European counterparts during the 1970s.
Arguably, you could avatar latter-day psychedelia with an artist like Toro Y Moi: a beatifically senile 24-year-old whose music is so unmindful it doesn't so much as blend eras as confuse them, complete with muddled beats and mislaid notes. But psyche used to be about fortitude, technical marvel, magnitude. The ungainly beauty of Serpentina Satelite does its bit to rescue that ideology from disuse.