After getting together the most important players from hypnagogic pop on volume 7, the ninth chapter of the increasingly essential “FRKWYS” series by RVNG Intl. (the label responsible for “Ekstasis” by Julia Holter, one of the best records of 2012 so far), is another score, bringing together another key representative of hypnagogic pop and The Congos, one of the most legendary names from Lee 'Scratch' Perry's golden age as a producer. Sun Araw has always used dub techniques in the production of his music, especially when mixing his tracks after recording them. However, Camerone Stallones (the man behind Sun Araw) and M. Geddes Gengras have been smart enough not to try to emulate The Congos' classic sound, defined by Scratch's production, and have instead looked for common ground from which they could explore new musical possibilities together.
The main link between Sun Araw and The Congos is spirituality, although each in their own way: Sun Araw's life philosophy is unorthodox, eclectic, typical of the American West Coast, while The Congos' is based on the orthodoxy of Rastafarianism. That spirituality is already reflected in the track titles: “Thanks And Praise” and “Invocation” are two clear examples. The interesting thing in both cases is how their different life views served as a meeting and starting point in their joint search for new musical forms, which is the idea behind this album.
This resulted in Sun Araw's music (the backbone of the record) opening up, breaking the traditionally solipsistic nature of his sound in favour of something more participative, thanks to collective improvisation. On this album, the music sounds earthier, moreoxygenated, more fragile and human, bringing optimism and openness to what were interior spaces in Sun Araw's previous dystopian efforts. On the more relaxed tracks, actually the best ones on the album, such as the aforementioned “ Thanks And Praise” and “New Binghi”, the project sounds close to the ambient and Fourth World Music experiments of people like Dolphins Into The Future.
In the interview published in the April issue of The Wire, Stallones explains his theories about the perception of time. To him, time as it's reflected in his music merges the past with the present and future, more or less like what happens to the observers in the science fiction series “Fringe”. That idea is the basis on which his pieces are built, in which he tries to reach a suspension in the perception of time through loops, drones and free improvisation. To transcend the present in search of a different reality is Sun Araw's psychedelic goal, while The Congos also looked to transcend a geographical space, Jamaica, in order to return, at least in their imagination, to Africa, their spiritual home, which is partly what Rastafarianism is based on. In both cases, the results are new interpretations of psychedelics, of mind-altering songs, seamlessly united on the album, as if to show that all parties reached a mutual understanding, essential for the collaboration to be successful.
But maybe the most interesting thing about this album is to see how it might influence the future direction of Sun Araw, who already has a very recognisable, established sound. It's likely that this immersion in Jamaican music (the album was recorded at The Congos' studio on the island) will take him to new territories. In the meantime, however, we have to celebrate RVNG Intl.'s lucky hand when it comes to proposing collaborations between musicians from different generations, not simply because it could make for a good story, but because they want to find common ground from which they can come up with new sounds and ideas.