The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Rhyton
Kykeon Joe Banks , December 18th, 2014 11:42

It's nearly the end of 2014, and the great psych/kraut butter mountain still continues to grow, groaning under an immense weight of re-heated raga riffs, reverbed vocals and motorik rhythms. I'm naturally inclined to like this stuff, but you can clearly have too much of a good thing. Perhaps there's just more of everything these days, but it does feel that this type of music has become a default position for a whole generation of bands, sucked into its orbit for want of any other inspiration. What at first seemed an exciting incursion into rock's canon of influences is in danger of becoming the new normal.

And of course, it makes sorting the wheat from the chaff an even more difficult process than before, and makes it easier to overlook stuff. Rhyton's Kykeon is one such record that I almost ignored, giving it a cursory listen before no doubt moving onto some urgent web-based distraction. But it had obviously planted a seed, because it kept creeping up on me, tugging at my sleeve for another play. Thankfully, I gave in and went back to it.

Kykeon has a couple of qualities that aren't exactly USPs, but certainly make it stand out from the pack. The first is an explicit engagement with the musical roots of psychedelia, in this case the melding of Western rock stylings with traditional Greco-Turkish instrumentation such as the saz, the baglamas and the bouzouki (all types of long-necked lutes). Ever since George Harrison picked up a sitar, there's been a debate about whether such hybridisation is a form of benign cultural exchange or imperalist co-option (as recently played out in Dustin Krcatovich's review of the excellent Khun Narin's Electric Phin Band album, but its undeniable that the incorporation of Eastern scales and tonalities into 60s blues and folk songs was a key starting point for what became psychedelia. And the second quality that Kykeon possesses is an appreciation of the dynamics of subtlety, allowing the songs to breathe and develop without crushing them under a swirling carpet of fuzz.

Rhyton are a trio of Brooklyn-based avant-rockers (David Shuford, Jimy SeiTang and Rob Smith) with previous form in groups such as Psychic Ills and No Neck Blues Band – Kykeon is their third album. As with their other records, it's essentially instrumental, but whereas the first two were mainly improvised, this one is more structured and arranged, which again makes a nice change from the unedited stream-of-consciousness jams the genre often produces. Opening track 'Siren In Byblos' might start off with the sound of the Tardis materialising inside a block of metal, but it soon resolves into a compulsive minor key bass groove overlaid with a pleasingly sinuous guitar melody which keeps threatening to burst into the theme from The Prisoner. There's lots of space here, small jabs of organ like brief flares from distant fires at night, while the drums are both propulsive and shuffling.

'Topkapi' shimmies in on a bed of tremolo guitar and a Grecian top line that worms its way into your head – in simplistic terms, we're now firmly in Magic Lantern meets Erkin Koray territory. The track gradually builds to a density of plucked strings, part atavistic ceremony, part rave-up at the local taverna. 'Gneiss' sounds like Can trapped in the catacombs of an ancient city, Shuford's guitar chopping out a tightly coiled Aegean funk riff by the flickering light of smoky torches.

'Pannychis' is looser, but its organ-led groove, driving drums and circular acoustic guitar licks create a tight mesh of sound. With a screech, it slows to a near-halt, but the guitar keeps going, re-building the tempo, the insistent picking reminiscent of the Eastern-flavoured krautrock of Amon Düül II's 'Cerberus'. And then barrelling in on its tail comes 'California Black Box Vapors', the black growl of guitar blasting off on a mission to who knows where, Lemmy-esque bass runs further enhancing the Space Ritual vibe. But before long, we're out of fuel and drifting, transmitting a solitary distress signal before all systems shut down. Closing track 'The Striped Sun' continues in this unmoored vein, but it's the one point on the album that Rhyton lose focus, opening the door to the room where an infinite number of guitarists struggle to find the missing om chord.

We might have heard these tropes a thousand times before, but on Kykeon, Rhyton use them to make something richer and more nimble than the flabby freak-out-by-numbers psych that's currently clogging up rock's bandwidth. Don't overlook them.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.