Seaworthy: Bellows and Breath
Sparkling Wide Pressure: Grandfather Harmonic
Bellows and Breath, Cameron Webb's fourth Seaworthy album, is as big and majestic as the great outdoors, and the album's connection to the natural world is immediately evident in track titles such as “Below the Windswept Field” and “Scuttled Path and Stone.” Sounds of birds, water, wind, and other environmental elements don't appear as mere window dressing in the album's eight settings but rather form an integral part of the material's make-up, sometimes feeling equal in importance to the musical elements. Most importantly, Webb has adjusted the focus to arresting effect on the new release by moving away from the guitar-centric sound of previous releases (e.g., 1897 for 12k in 2009) to one that places deep harmonium drones plus melodica and found sounds at the center. Not only has the change brought about a shift in timbre, it's also added a vaguely psychedelic character to the material that aligns Seaworthy closer in spirit to other psychedelic-drone artists operating today.
The Sydney-based Webb isn't interested in stripping back the material so that only the purest trace of harmonium is present; representative pieces such as “Breathe Deep” and “Summer Swarms” find him enveloping the tracks' shimmering centers with all manner of textural shadings, resulting in sonically dense masses of slowly mutating sound. Webb also departs from standard drone practice at times in unexpected ways. During the latter half of “Creaking Panels West,” for example, the melodica and harmonium veritably wail with an emotional intensity that's rarely heard in the genre. He hasn't wholly abandoned his former sound—subtle traces of acoustic guitar are still audible (in the brief “The Rustle of Weatherbeaten Leaves,” for instance) and during “Scuttled Path and Stone” a balance is struck between spindly curlicues of guitar picking and the wheeze of the harmonium—so much as modified it and in doing so opened it up to new possibilities. In keeping with its title, Bellows and Breath breathes with a natural, unhurried grace, drawing within itself the outside world and then externalizing it in newly conceived form.
If the title of Sparkling Wide Pressure's Grandfather Harmonic suggests a psychedelic trip of some extreme kind, the six tracks on the album often live up to such expectations. That material by Murfreesboro, Tennessee-based Frank Baugh has appeared previously on free-thinking labels such as Digitalis and Students of Decay also says much about the Sparkling Wide Pressure sensibility. It's interesting to learn, then, that Grandfather Harmonic is thematically rooted in Baugh's connection to his rural Tennessee childhood home and specifically memories of his grandfather and his harmonica playing rather than something spacier. Nevertheless, it's not hard to draw a connecting line from that nostalgic image to the rich harmonium-like synthesizer drones that fill the album's crevasses.
The album's style is clearly set when “Across the Red River” pierces a molten steam-bath of electric guitar fire and synthesizers with scabrous six-string stabs, and with sequencer patterns burbling incessantly as an accompaniment to synthesizer radiance and guitar accents, “Looking to Remember” puts us within striking distance of kosmische territory. Hazy vocals contribute to the already-dazed slow-burn of “Cross Plains,” its trippy flute playing a stark contrast to jagged, post-punk guitar playing that's as fundamental to the track's character as it is to the other pieces. There's a quality to the track's bruising dissonance that's also felt elsewhere, especially during the fifteen-minute “Pump House/Spring Water,” as peyote-fueled a desert meditation as one might ever expect to encounter. “Future Voice” brings a gentler though no less dazed tone to the proceedings, with Baugh's sleepy voice chanting amidst a drifting mass of organ, harmonica, and guitars whose crawl is so slow it flirts with collapsing altogether, after which Baugh's somnambulant murmur appears once more during “Simple Touch,” this time almost drowned under a woozy sea of synthesizer convulsions. It's that oft-present primitivist tendency, however, that confirms Baugh's proud status as an astral traveler of some fearless disposition.