Altar Eagle Altar EagleMechanical Gardens
Brad Rose is the owner of Digitalis Industries, which is possibly the most active label within that miniscule indie scene that venerates extravagant formats and limited editions (as well as records of all sizes, lathe cut, cassettes, factory or recordable compacts, DVD’s and USB pendrives, now they also publish books). Besides that, Rose heads the interesting webzine Foxy Digitalis, an instrument for propagating the same scene defended from his label. And to close the circle, as if those two occupations weren’t enough to keep him busy, Rose is also a highly prolific musician, capable of handling fifteen personal projects and four or five bands at a time. A long list of names, which at times manage to peep out from the underground (this is the case of The North Sea, Ossining, Ajilvsga or Corsican Paint Brush, the latter along with his wife, the no-less-prolific Eden Hemmings Rose), and which should always be approached with caution. After all, Rose’s days are the same as everybody else’s: made up of twenty-four hours, and this means that his standard when it comes to releasing is fairly flexible, where flexible often means non-existent.
I’m telling you all of this because since he is so exposed to everything that happens on this scene, Rose has ended up assimilating any given mutation before anyone else, becoming a sort of zeitgeist (or, to be a little perverse, a sort of Zelig), a relatively reliable indicator of what is going on in the ever-changing world of indie on the fringes. In his endless discography, in fact, you can find folk projects (almost always with a bit of R&D, it must be said), noise and ambient in all of its varieties, and a few hypnagogic experiments. And according to what his new adventure, Altar Eagle (also along with his wife) proposes, it seems that the next step will be to recover and update early 90’s noise pop; this is logical, considering that the revival of its direct precedents, shoegaze and space rock, are lemons that have already been thoroughly squeezed at this point.
“Mechanical Gardens”, the couple’s first album after various impossible-to-find cassettes, recognises these intentions from the very first moment and, along the way, also recognises its dues: the melody of “Battlefield”, the opening song, seems to have been stolen from the Jesus & Mary Chain of “Darklands” (listen to “Deep One Perfect Morning” if you have it on hand), the drones that make up the atmospheres hark back to Yo La Tengo and “Painful”, while the keyboards in the background remind one vividly of Felt. Add a couple of names chosen from shoegaze ( My Bloody Valentine, Medicine, Slowdive, the early Seefeel) to the equation, and you will get the mould from which the album’s most obviously pop songs have been made: the aforementioned “ Battlefield”, “Honey”, “Monsters” and “Spy Movie”. Change the register a little, come a little closer to Mazzy Star, and there you have the more intimate songs, like the lovely “Breakdown” or that monument to euphoria that is “Six Foot Arms” (Eden doesn’t have the vocal register of Hope Sandoval, but the intentions are the same). And don’t forget that if one influence stands out above all others, it’s Flying Saucer Attack. You can tell that the Roses have been listening to Dave Pearce’s legacy, especially because of the bleary, volatile way they have of mixing synthesisers and guitars, the use of very plain rhythm boxes, low-fidelity production, and the way that they have mixed the songs, leaving all the tracks in the background, bathed in a luminous mantle of static electricity.
But no one should think that “Mechanical Gardens” is a simple exercise in revisionism: beyond it’s points of reference, beyond the occasional slip-up (paradoxically, they only fail in the most experimental moments, with things as onanistic as “B’nai B’rith Girls”), the Roses show that they have a surprising facility for hypnosis and the melodic hook, they know how to take advantage of the strange mixture their voices make, and they are at home handling the ins and outs of psychedelics. These are enough ingredients to make a lovely ambiental, nebulous album (David Keenan would be sure to call it hypnagogic ), which is better and better the more expansive the sound becomes.