The Lickets: Offering to Magnetic Mountain
International Corporation

Since The Lickets' first release appeared in 2005, the group has gleefully trafficked in acts of playful provocation and mischief. At its Facebook page, for example, the founding date of the Berkeley, California-based outfit's label, International Corporation, is purported to be July 16, 1820; further to that, while the label name itself might suggest a global conglomerate of some finance-related kind, the label serves as an exclusive outlet for the various projects of Mitch Greer and Rachel Smith, The Lickets chief among them.

In contrast to the more straightforward cover adorning 2015's Dolls In Color, Offering To Magnetic Mountain's imagery harks back to earlier albums such as Her Name Came On Arrows and Here (On Earth) and as such hints, correctly it turns out, that the new recording will be another heady plunge into trippy chamber-folk psychedelia by the so-called “transcendental mini-orchestra.” Greer and Smith are credited with guitar, cello, harp, flute, and synthesizer on the album, but it's not uncommon for other instruments to worm their way into The Lickets' mix, whether it be sitar, mellotron, woodwind, or harmonium, or some combination thereof.

The album was written and recorded in the months leading up to the 2017 presentation of KZSU's Day of Noise, during which twenty-four hours of live experimental music are broadcast. Greer and Smith conceived Offering To Magnetic Mountain as a “fantastical folk horror film soundtrack” whose seventy-one minutes initially were intended to be used as a backdrop to a spoken radio-play. Yet though the narrative component was ultimately abandoned, leaving in its wake the instrumental material as presented, a story-line of sorts can be gleaned from both the thirteen track titles and the trajectory of the music itself, which shifts from episodes of pastoral folk to alien electronic soundscaping. As the album advances, the cover image's juxtaposition of blissful, creature-based foreground and ominous, machine-dominated background comes to reflect the musical design.

At album's start, “No One Knows What Became of Them” places us within a subtly mysterious wonderland populated by harp and other woodland creatures. After that relatively peaceful beginning, the pace picks up for “The Monsters Descended from Above” with swirling harps and animated acoustic guitar leading the charge. A sudden, dramatic detour into a decidedly non-pastoral realm follows when “The Nineteen Days” and “Offering to an Ancestor” flesh out the album portrait with cold industrial-electronic timbres and grinding noise convulsions. The material thereafter oscillates between the two realms, with one sometimes intruding into the other and minimizing the distance between them.

Whereas “Faces of the Forests” captures the group's estimable talent for evoking the eerier side of nature using little more than flute, acoustic guitar, and cello, the closing “O! The Mountains Green” accentuates The Lickets' talent for crafting entrancing pastoral-folk landscapes. “Human Manufacturing Society,” on the other hand, sees the group recasting itself as a modern-day Popol Vuh, while a faint trace of “Paperback Writer” haunts the airy melody floating through the skies of “Falconer's Day Spa.” Greer and Smith also show they haven't lost their penchant for deadpan humour, as the creature babble thundering through the background of “Four Hundred Rabbits” makes clear. A dozen years on from the release of its debut album, Offering To Magnetic Mountain finds the duo operating in top form, and it would be hard to imagine any long-time fan of the group's work unsatisfied by this latest creation.

May 2017