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Map of Dawn Dustin Krcatovich , June 21st, 2022 08:48

On this Oregon psychedelic sextet’s latest album, Dustin Krcatovich hears the natural splendour of the Pacific Northwest reflected in sound

veryone knows that it rains a lot in western Oregon, but there’s plenty more to the state than that. Oregon is a sprawl of dense forests, verdant valleys, towering mountains, and hours of fuck all in between. Get a bit outside the city and you might find yourself faced with miles of gnarled glory and dense thickets of mystery.

Portland-based sextet Abronia reminds me of this Oregon, and that sense of place is a big part of their strength. Their new album Map of Dawn evokes the region’s natural tumult, its soggy forest paths, raging rivers, and husk-dry desert expanses. Perhaps it has something to do with their ancient-sounding melodies, or maybe the 32" concert bass drum that throbs through their music in place of a traditional kit, but sometimes Abronia sounds like they’re playing along with the heartbeat of the Earth itself.

Not that they don’t levitate when the song calls for it. The middle section of album highlight ‘Wave of the Hand’ is given over to an ecstatic freeform squall that reaches a hand for Ayler’s heaven, before abruptly charging into double-time jazz-rock and lapsing into a spaghetti western coda. Album closer ‘Caught Between Hives’ mounts the pressure for a full six five minutes with softly weeping pedal steel and held-back bumblebee guitar buzz before the dam breaks, spilling over with ducking and weaving harmonies that travel somewhere between the mid-section of ‘Marquee Moon’ and an exceptionally inspired ‘Dark Star’.

The waterlogged slow burn of fellow Pacific Northwesterners Earth (or at least, their more restrained later work) is evident on Map of Dawn, as is some of the world-building/melting of Sun City Girls and the desert dreams of Ennio Morricone. By these ears’ estimation, this is also a band who know their way around the ‘psych/prog’ section at every record store up and down the Cascadia Corridor, and who quite likely have gotten into polite-but-heated discussions amongst themselves on the merits of Fifty Foot Hose, Gong, Plastic People of the Universe, et al. There’s also more than a whiff of Haight-Ashbury, most especially the Jefferson Airplane, with whom the band share a snaking haziness. Singer Keelin Mayer’s voice even recalls Grace Slick’s at times – though Slick never spent the instrumental sections peeling off roaring tenor sax lines like Mayer.

None of these inputs would amount to much in 2022 if the band couldn’t bring the stew together, of course; psych revivalists are a dime a dozen. Fortunately, Abronia make the recipe their own, and more impressively, make it a reflection of the place they call home. Where lesser bands might only go as deep as is allowed by the ‘canyon’ setting on their boutique reverb pedals, on Map of Dawn Abronia is digging to the planet’s core – or at least far enough down to touch roots.