Sun Araw - The Saddle of the Increate
It’s now hard to recall how I first encountered the music of Sun Araw and more difficult to explain what prompted me to work through the entirety of their prolific discography over the course of a weekend resulting in this review of a two-month old album. But here we are. As if the idle wanderer saddled up on the stool next to mine to relay some tall tales of a distant town, with some curiosity I took the trip. And I’m glad for it.
There are two distinct shades of Sun Araw: The first from debut LP The Phynx in 2008 to sonic transition piece Ancient Romans in 2011, which drew upon psychedelic sounds of the ‘60s and early ‘70s with flecks of structural kinship to Can, Silver Apples, and Spacemen 3. Those LPs are sun soaked, drenched in reverb, and their looping, dub-reggae melodies tumble along with a shimmer that could as easily complement a backyard barbecue as a campfire encircled smoke session. I kept returning to the tranquility of On Patrol, an album that seemed to strike a compromise between slow-burning jams and relatively concise song lengths. In the shallowest of hindsights, On Patrol was the polished product of much previous effort. Then with The Inner Treaty in 2012, Sun Araw brushed off accessible elements of the project, moving into a space both alien and polarizing. Densely textured production gave way to dry, isolated instrumentation – unmasking the truly electronic nature of the project while retaining a warm, distinctive hypnosis. With each LP that followed, Sun Araw traced this path inward and down like the logic of a hallucinogenic odyssey. With The Saddle of the Increate we have reached the core.
Primordial and minimalist, The Saddle of the Increate constructs a distant mirage of its possible influences in Beefheart grotesqueries, Zappa-tinged slapstick, and the Old Western arthouse imagery of Alejandro Jodorwosky. “Orthrus” is funky and futuristic at once and “A Chute” is dried out Stones guitar riffs, but these touches fade in and out of view while never holding long enough for their origins to be mapped, revealing themselves in retrospect and when forced to sit and grudgingly admit influences. The Saddle of the Increate’s product description reads: “A Jackfruit Rodeo. Covered in eyes! Swaddled in flame! A metaphysical comedy of self about the roping and directing of cattle.” No hauntological western fable is complete without a brief, cryptic tease – covered in eyes! Thank heavens it’s a comedy. If we’re committing to this trip, then we gotta ease up on the highbrowishness of the “concept album” affair; you won’t follow it anyway. Sun Araw’s Cameron Stallones has explained the Herculean epic narrative in interviews, but the lyrics merely suggest any literal interpretation through hypnotic dream logic akin to David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive or the final third of 2001: A Space Odyssey. All meaning is pulled from an interpretation of the innately personal psychological journey and recollection process, with imagery conveyed through dusty, electronic rhythms, pedal steel guitar, and abstract tone poetry with lines like, “Would a leash by another name feel this groovy?”, “My heart does not cover a flaming sword / thermodynamically speaking”, “A goooooooolden boot!” Scenes and characters shuffle into view and then fade into the distance quick as the campfires, bottles of whiskey, ghosts and, hopefully, cattle on this pilgrimage.
First and foremost, The Saddle of the Increate is a psychedelic journey, one venturing to shift you into an altered state with or without the assistance of whatever. If this record carries with it a metaphysical argument, it suggests that, over the years, a great deal of psychedelic rock music has overemphasized the cursory aspects of the style (pulsating reverb, densely packed production, echoing harmonies) while neglecting to submerge listeners into a pace and space that replicates a journey within the self. In an interview with Tiny Mix Tapes, Stallones submitted, “I think there are parts of us that that are not intellectual that are actually much more fundamental and generative of our experience […] It’s the sort of thing that makes you dream and all that stuff.” Here is the point of that position: Humans are quick to categorize every thought into a wider narrative and interpret all reality through this construction controlled by our intellectual selves. It is built into our sentience; we are born, some things happen, we die. Beginning, middle, and end. All the while, we subconsciously absorb and more abstractly process our being, the stuff dreams are made of. Like the best of immersions, The Saddle of the Increate triggers the creative subconscious and is only direct enough about where it wants to take you: some sorta desert voyage both future and past – we get it – there’s some sun left and you’ve got your horse, a muddied canteen of water, and a bit of peyote, you hear that a creek winds its way along not too far from here.
Then you reach a “Release” and fittingly slip into a swaying chorus like those that have linked fellow passengers for centuries. Torches to lighters to screens. The sun is faded and you never noticed, but here’s this fire and my God, these stars. My weekend reaches its end and Sun Araw wanders away without even a “Take ‘er easy there partner”. He’ll surely be back. A sepia-tone glow lingers over my headspace and everything.