Review Summary: An overlooked 2008 gem that blends trance and folk, and manages a few clever nods to Pink Floyd.
That other cover you are recalling from the one gracing the front of Black Medicine Music
is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon
, whose iconic light-bending prism is recalled in two outstretched hands taking hold of a cup filled with liquid rainbow; a triangular prism is neatly cropped, translucent, atop them; a saturated-green forest fills the black void behind that. At once it is an homage that articulates the depths Stag Hare has taken in blending the outside influences apparent on his creative sophomore record, following 2007’s as-splendid debut, the 41-minute track Ahspen
. Which is to say, Black Medicine Music
is an album of feeling, an album that, by very nature, sounds like it was recorded in a forest, stretching its genre boundaries to include shades of tribal rhythms, blends of freak folk and traditional Americana, only to emerge victorious as a trance
Stag Hare’s songwriting here is bound to many genre conventions, like repetitious beats that sag along the floor, swathed beneath the layered “synths” of sparkling wind chimes and woodblock pulse, as they do on “Crystal Dust Dream,” which makes the album’s charming weightlessness all the more becoming. Here is an album that might have a very influential power behind it (if anyone knows of another artist blending folk and ambience like this
, let me know, pronto), and yet the best thing about it is how easy it is to put on.
Opener “Born into Magic” begins with a rough recording of a bird cawing before cutting to the album’s clear production: a vibrant hum gives a minute to rise patiently, a beat claps into place, and the whole thing gives way to hypnotic tremors. This is the pace that guides the rest of the album, cementing its weightless feel even as it gives way to a few minutes of wood chimes shaking violently; or, say, places its two longest tracks as a final one-two punch of epic closure. That includes the aforementioned “Crystal Dust Dream,” which features the best use of harmonica I can recall in quite some time, and the album’s closing champion, “Oz.”
“Oz” is the only other track besides “Born into Magic” allowed time to really build and there is a deliberate pull to he pacing. It takes nearly two minutes for the album’s best track to slowly gather all of its parts and pile them on, and another four before it even starts to shape. The effect is epic. Stag Hare’s use of vocals as “vocals” is debatable at best on Black Medicine Music
, mostly contained to unintelligible patterns that become integral to the music as instruments. On “Oz,” they bleed through the pores of this wall of noise, bend and warp around light, and clip off suddenly, only for the space to be filled with an electric guitar, a velvety smooth new color to the palette.
The Pink Floyd references are complete here, the sonic production that gives the chord its arc more reminiscent of three decades ago rather than of anything modern. But while Black Medicine Music
is certainly an album of influences, Stag Hare must certainly be applauded for being unique to his execution. That he never seems to try for originality makes Black Medicine Music
a wonderful find, a late summer surprise already a year removed from its release date. Feels a bit timeless, this one. I once called it “an Animal Collective instrumental album.” Enjoy.