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Matt Baldwin
Imaginary Psychology Joe Banks , December 17th, 2013 06:01

Matt Baldwin first came to my attention with his debut LP Paths Of Ignition, an Album of the Month on Julian Cope's Head Heritage site back in 2008. While clearly aligned with the 00's wave of psych folk solo guitarists (Ben Chasny, Jack Rose, etc.) building on the maverick legacy of John Fahey, it was his choice of cover versions (Neu's 'Weissensee' and Judas Priest's 'Winter') that really piqued my interest. And while the influence of Fahey and 60s contemporaries such as Sandy Bull and Robbie Basho was apparent in Baldwin's playing, his often dense and exploratory style also put me in mind of unsung folk guitar genius Nigel Mazlyn Jones (whose 'Ship to Shore' has to be heard to be believed).

Follow-up album Night in the Triangle confirmed Baldwin's credentials as an innovator rather than re-interpreter, with a barrage of effects applied to his guitar to create a sound that went way beyond just nimble finger-picking. In particular, it's notable for Baldwin's harnessing of a tape delay system I'll call Echoplex, though he probably uses a more modern version of the effect. You might not recognise the name, but you'll recognise the sound, spiralling concatenations of repeated notes that can range from impossibly delicate and fragile to brain-fryingly intricate and intense. Robert Fripp, Manuel Göttsching, John Martyn and Vini Reilly were/are all big users.

Imaginary Psychology runs with this sound and then some. Consisting of two long-form compositions and two shorter pieces, it's ostensibly Baldwin's third 'mainstream' release, though it's previously been available as a limited CD-R. It actually presents a peculiar challenge to write about because, without getting too new agey, there's an essential 'isness' about the music on this album that defies traditional analysis. If you're not in the right frame of mind or not paying attention, it can seem like nothing much is happening, the cycles and repetitions of the sound keeping the songs locked in a constant now rather than allowing them to progress as you'd normally expect.

But there's actually a lot going on here. The first of the long tracks has the perfect title of 'Lindsay And Her Duplicates', its fast-paced cascading cosmic funk alluding to some sci-fi cloning experiment, as version upon version of the same guitar figure creates a vivid geometric structure. Various swirls and eddies seem to bubble up from inside this structure like eruptions from deep sea vents, before peals of what sounds like synth (but could well be treated guitar) etch diamond-bright glyphs across its crystalline surface.

The short 'Bokarian Dervish' serves as a soothing intermission, the sun setting through trees as twilight approaches, before we get to 'Imaginary Psychology' itself, a slower and spacier rotational folk piece that takes us back into Fahey territory via an intimation of King Crimson circa 1981. It's like a multitude of clocks gradually unwinding, each chime talking to the other in an infinity of reflections and digressions, before a phasing swarm of metallic bees obliterates all concepts of linear time.

Entertainingly, if not a little incongruously, the new release of Imaginary Psychology ends with a version of Bruce Springsteen's 'State Trooper', the Boss's minimal, Suicide-referencing hymn to blue collar desperation, which in Baldwin's hands morphs into a carload of acidheads begging for leniency while tripping their tits off. It sounds like Hawkwind recorded in an airtight box, but finishes with a fantastic piece of deliquescent soloing.

Imaginary Psychology might demand a different kind of listening, but a little reorientation of the sonic palette can be no bad thing, particularly if it encourages us to question our narrative expectations of what a song should be. But hey, even if you couldn't care less for music theory, there's still loads of cool sounds in here for the casual psychonaut.

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