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Sensations' Fix

Music Is Painting in the Air

[RVNG; 2012]

By ; October 23, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

70s-inspired prog and kraut pop-rock has finally seen something of a comeback lately, thanks to groups as varied as Australia’s Tame Impala, Minnesota’s Food Pyramid, and Missouri’s Umberto. It’s not like I’m awaiting the next Aqualung–that 1971 album from legendary British prog-rock outfit Jethro Tull seems far too sincere to be honestly replicated–but in general, the notion of incorporating experimental and psychedelic elements into classic rock tropes has weathered the cultural cycle from nascent style to embarrassing vestige to detached, post-whatever revival.

Thing is, I don’t know that “ironic” prog rock is even possible, let alone listenable. Would Mirage, the overlooked classic second album from British prog-rockers Camel, have worked even half as well had its creators not been so indebted to decidedly uncool sources of inspiration like Lord of the Rings, which served as the thematic impetus for the epic side one closer “Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider?” Would Pink Floyd’s records have experienced the continued popularity they currently enjoy had they not seriously worried about being welcomed to the machine or wondered about the dark side of the moon (which, as they point out, is actually a misnomer: “Matter of fact, it’s all dark”)? I’m going to hazard a guess and say that they wouldn’t, which means that today’s prog revival necessarily misses some of the starry-eyed authenticity of the genre’s most lasting touchstones.

Which makes Music Is Painting In The Air, a compilation of mid-70s tracks by Italian-by-way-of-Virginia trio Sensations’ Fix collated and remastered by group leader Franco Falsini, all the more refreshing. The epic chord changes, soaring guitar riffs, and wiggly electronic underbelly of “Grow On You” are the real mccoy; the bluesy strums of “Warped Notions of a Practical Joke” and the swirling chords and inscrutable, ethereal vocal layerings of “Dark Side of Religion” are earnest studio explorations born from a time when the Minimoog was a technological breakthrough instead of a vintage garage-sale find; the sparse, one-note-at-a-time synth wandering of “Cosmic Saudade” sounds less like a Tangerine Dream throwback and more like an astronaut’s cautious yet courageous first steps on an alien planet. The knowledge of these tunes’ age lends them not an academic or historic importance but rather the benefit of the doubt; holed up in his Virginia basement, Falsini’s DIY studio experiments sound all the more charming for their earnest curiosity. It’s the difference between, say, Ben Franklin’s key-on-a-kitestring discovery that lightning was indeed a form of electricity and a sixth grader’s reproduction of such for an after-school science fair.

Only one of the tracks on this 30-song set exceeds the five-minute mark, but many of the others sound downright epic anyway. Take “Into the Memory,” which begins not unlike a Mark McGuire solo jam before evolving into a sort of gelatinous kraut journey buoyed by Keith Edwards’s buried yet guiding drum work and Richard Ursillo’s steady bassline. The whole thing lasts for a little over three minutes, and while it certainly doesn’t drag on, it feels longer in the best possible way. Neither rushed nor excessively patient, Music Is Painting is the rare prog-rock collection that doesn’t necessarily require a bong and a free weekend afternoon to sink your teeth (or ears) into.

Indeed, Sensations’ Fix were above all else talented rock musicians, and it’s their mastery of the fundamentals that allow them to so confidently expand upon that sound. The more I listen to these songs, the more I’m convinced that while Falsini and company certainly benefited from studio experimentation–even if that “studio” was really just Falsini playing around at home with a couple synths and a four-track recorder–they wouldn’t have required such technological exploration to produce great music. For all the talk of Falsini as proto-Ariel Pink lo-fi pioneer, I’m more impressed by the trio’s ability to churn out a dizzying array of passionate yet always understated jams. They didn’t need to oversell their music. They were sonic explorers to be sure, but at the end of the day, it seems they didn’t care how “out there” or “innovative” they actually sounded.

And that is this compilation’s greatest achievement: it presents a collection of solid psychedelic rock songs that defined and disregarded the “rules” of prog with little of that genre’s typical yet tiresome bombast or grandeur. The title track opens with the delightful strums of an acoustic guitar before introducing that classically 70s fuzzy electric sound, while an organ-sounding synth provides distant low-end support and FX. To be sure, the track–like the other 29 on this collection–was heavily labored over. Somehow, hoever, it ends up sounding effortless and even sans artifice. It sounds like what it is–three guys jamming with nary a thought towards commercial appeal or “hip” dispassion. “Left Side Of Green,” meanwhile, employs some the most unassuming chimes I’ve heard in a rock song. Unassuming chimes! Easygoing whimsy! And there’s still plenty of room for a soaring guitar solo or two. Put thatin your apple pipe and smoke it.


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