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The Present
The Way We Are jonny mugwump , July 10th, 2009 09:03

The Present and _The Way We Are seem to be huge misnomers for an album that exists entirely outside notions of the earthbound. This is an extraordinary collection of songs, hugely original, out there, baffling, ecstatic. It feels like space-ethno-forgery, a microscope taken to the freest parts of Tago Mago. That is not a comparison to throw around lightly.

If they're using conventional rock instrumentation (it's very hard to tell) the standard hierarchy of balance is entirely overturned. Drums are muted and held back so much you wonder if you're sometimes imagining them. Vocals - there might be some - voice occasionally become detectable. Bass? It's just river of sound, flowing its own way answering a logic of its own understanding. If this is making no sense, it's only because The Present make no (logical) sense. The Way We Are is a strange dream that you have to surrender to. Fight it and you'll get nothing. Dampen your internal engines and it's a teleport machine into unique internal landscapes.

Somewhere round the turn of the century, starting with Animal Collective, Ariel Pink and the whole new folk thing, America got strange, got shamanic - discovered the weirdness buried in the ancient heart of their homeland, found a history older than their own away from the desperately dull platitudes of grunge.

'Medman' opens with a processed bass line of sorts, electronic sounds, dampened slow drumbeat with a plethora of strange non-musical sounds vying for attention. An expectation of narrative is raised and it feels like a song and you expectantly wait for vocals that never arrive. Two minutes in and you give it up- you're in someone else's hands and have no idea what's coming, no idea what genre this is supposed to be, your sense of memory and narrative is entirely scrambled and you're pretty fucking excited. It fades out.

'Saltwater Trails' begins like Forbidden Planet underwater and then drifts way out - is that a voice? Are those birds? The sonic map keeps rewriting itself in fluid sweeps leaving you blissfully stranded. Something akin to a melody surfaces, the briefest glimpse of a dolphin before vanishing like a mirage. By now everything feels like a mirage, you glimpse a sound only for it to vanish. Something tells you that this is a band- you get the vaguest sense that this is somehow being done live. Somehow…. And then a beat suddenly materialises, fast then sluggish then collapse to fade as a grandeur-sodden drone rises on the horizon

I'm not going to describe 'Space Meadow'. When you hear it, that's exactly what it sounds like and this will make you awestruck with happiness. The Present finish with the title track which rolls for 32 minutes on the CD, although you can imagine them playing on long past this. It sounds like the aforementioned Ariel Pink trying to reconstruct the time tunnel from Kubrick's 2001. Vague waves of indescribable noise and sound wash around your ears to the point where orientation is utterly impossible. There might be piano occasionally and guitar but mostly it's a midnight rainbow fog- compelling, awe-inspiring, maybe even a little frightening but subtly majestic. The lo-tech production keeps it subtle and the sheer chaos of the blur keeps it subtle.

Amongst other things, a refreshingly skewed press release name checks Nietzsche. Well, I say totally - for all the noise and narrative flux, the mood is one of bliss and awestruck wonder - there is a possessed love of life, where emotions and physicality are in overdrive and time ceases to exist. This music belongs solely to the moment.

Every second sounds like it's composing itself alongside your heartbeat. New sounds beget new emotions and for those of us who live to be startled, beguiled, and possessed, The Way We Are is magnificent - a huge, beautiful and bizarre achievement.