Sunday, January 14, 2018

2017 Year in Music: Headroom – Head In The Clouds

Head In The Clouds

You can play the guitar or you can wield it – Headroom lead conjurer Kryssi Battalene is certainly the latter. Head In The Clouds is defined by the lead guitar; may even be a vehicle for it; and Battalene alternately weaponizes the instrument, or transmutes it into a paintbrush, a guitar dervish shapeshifting for close to 40-minutes until ripping a paean to Neil & Crazy Horse is almost the least expected way to end the ceremony.

Opener "How To Grow Evil Flowers" establishes the modus operandi – lurching the listener into the tryyp. While a two-chord riff plods in the background, it takes a moment to recognize the blistering staccato frequency as...yes, yes I believe that's an electric guitar. The first half of the 10-minute run-time is dedicated to Battalene squeezing the life out of the strobing, phased feedback washing over the backing band. Two-minutes in, there's a distinguishable note, caustically-twisted and all, as a spiraling solo flies over the track, like a shorting-out radio frequency. It's nothing short of sprawling and atmospheric, the band plugging along, gradually growing and shaping their own brand of fuzz. When she switches to a continuous wall-of-sound, it's a temporary salve before returning to feedback histrionics, and closing out in a near-normal vibrato.

Most bands do much less with much more – it's to Headroom's credit that they can operate in near-instrumental psych forms, territory that's been near mined-to-death, but keep it fresh. "Miller's Pond" introduces gauzy vocals over a brittle, finger-picked melody. It's not-quite pastoral, Battalene's guitar glazing the sky above the song with irregular clouds of distortion and delay, a storm of feedback on the horizon that never quite breaks. It's beautiful and fragile – hypnotic, even.

A-side end "The Second Blazing Star" is more indebted to krautrock – there's a wobbly bass-line circa Holger Czukay and a more active, shuffling beat. Though where Can would edit out much of the simmer-and-boil, Headroom stay inside the locked-groove, bouncing off its walls. Battalene's guitar alternates between trebly, slapback-riffs and strangled chord clusters that act as a palate-cleanser before she steers back to higher octaves. If this is a rehearsal cut, whoa; it's molten, never accelerating nor messing with dynamics before fading tidily to a close.

On the B-side, the formula gets tweaked just as you're getting used to SYR-esque guitar heroics. "Head In The Clouds" is a scorched-earth, synthesizer-driven and drum-less instrumental. A heavy, organ-like drone weighs the bottom down, allowing frequencies to oscillate and buzz above, while a guitar (maybe?) ripples through it all, occasionally piercing the thick canopy of synths with a stab of light, but often glazing the background with gorgeous overtones. At first listen it's difficult – but after ten trips through this record, this became my favorite, dense with patterns and instrument interplay, near-unrecognizable guitar doled out in slo-mo, a collective, unrelenting sense of nirvana being the only order of business here.

Oh yeah, the Neil Young paean. "Flower Of Light" closes the record, it's near-10 minutes divided neatly in half, with the first half only rhythm guitar, walking bass-line, and Neil-summoning solo; the vocals and drums hit at once halfway in – it feels like a benediction, or maybe like shoegaze on cough syrup. It's beautiful and the solo here, the most melodic on the record, is perfect. Sure, it might dial down the fried form a bit, but it's still skronky and distorted and cloud-gazing and not for the faint of heart, even if they approach gentler vibes during the relaxed, couple-minute outro.

I'm not sure where the band goes from here – Head In The Clouds starts in the sky, and stays there for 40 focused, mind-expanding minutes. And that's enough for now – wanting more after encountering a force of nature is unnatural. Like the forest or the stars, sometimes you gotta stare at what you got, appreciating the details and endlessly fascinating molecules and moments all around.

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