[sic] Magazine

The Lavender Flu – Heavy Air

Where to begin with Heavy Air? What better place than its pointedly apt title? Predominantly a weirdo psych-folk record, the cicada-filled air does indeed hang heavy and humid throughout all 75 minutes of the album’s intimate home-recording, but that really is just the tip of Chris Gunn’s far-reaching iceberg. Recorded on hissing analogue tape alongside former Hunches and Hospitals band-mates (as well as with numerous other Portlanders, notably including Scott Simmons of Helen and Eat Skull), Heavy Air is undoubtedly indulgent and wildly experimental in scope, its pastoral ambience often stretched and warped out of recognition by druggy noise and ramshackle sound collages. As a result there’s very little like it. Its decadent 30-track running-time may variously recall Woods, Spectre Folk, The Velvet Underground and/or Richard Youngs to name but a few, but Heavy Air’s only true consistency is its volatility. Well-informed trad-folk cozies up to blown-out distortion. 60s pop eyeballs high-flying drone and the sizzle of sci-fi FX. Any number of tracks start life as one thing only then to end up on a different planet. Gunn deploys screaming moments of amplified field capture, meandering instrumentals and kitchen-sink interludes, fragments of melody stitched onto cacophony. His vocal, too, is restless. Pretty in places, near-spoken, screeching and so heavily delayed as to give him a stutter elsewhere, its dirgy and acidic delivery containing the contents of broken dreams and desire.

For an album on which so much is going on, however, Heavy Air is actually quite shy and minimal. The off-mic rattle of percussion and Gunn’s whispery vocal in “False Promises From Future Selves”, for example, are just that, the track’s many shadows downright creepy in their isolation. For all their intensity, though, few tracks linger long; the majority land under three mins and many are under two. And on none of them has Gunn consciously removed their hand-holds, but finding them is frequently hard work. Even his cover versions, of which there are no less than four, offer mixed entry points. A rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s beautiful “Like A Summer Thursday” is ripped apart with the fizz of distortion and a tumbling mass of percussion. Bo & The Weevils’ sunny “My Time” is given similar treatment, Gunn’s irresistible, but battered take on the tune obliterated late on by electric fuzz. In turn, the luxuriously laid-back “Lay In The Sun”, originally the work of Jim McCarthy/The Godz, becomes garbled as if light-damaged and getting eaten on play-back. Even John Fahey’s slowly meandering “Sligo River Blues” is given a slick of grime on its surface, helping to oil Heavy Air’s challenging second disc quite uncomfortably. In this vein, perverted lullaby “Telepathic Axe” dances between bliss and brutality, a summer’s day as the world disintegrates around it. Even further out, “La-Bas” incorporates jazzy bass and sax skronk, a particularly stoned palette of instrumentation squiggling on through an endurance test despite its brief two-minute running time. It’s something like Animal Collective gone genuinely insane. Top of the pack, Heavy Air’s longest track at six minutes, “Transcendental Hangover” houses fried drones borrowed from Gunn’s Hospitals days and a selection of chimes that give way to … what? Whatever the fuck Gunn wants at this point: challenging free-form ambience and loco chatter that runs headlong into a repetitive bass hook borrowed from “Sweet Jane” it turns out.

The thing is that Gunn can write a thing of awkward, twanging beauty when he chooses. His songs, at their core, are largely conventional no matter their literal bells and whistles. The bent strings of “Those That Bend”, for example, develop into rickety pop, the sort of delicious weirdness you imagine Volcanic Tongue would be promoting as album of the week if they were still going … sniff. Even when much less sociable, Gunn is capable of uncommon organic beauty, the high-end organ malfunction of “Feel The Ground” squeaking unusually alongside the rest of the album’s sleepy, multi-tracked strumming and sun-dappled jangles. Gunn doesn’t always ramp upwards either. Starting in paranoia, “He Hides From The Mirrors” soothes to a close with the introduction of a ghostly female vocal. His approach throughout, nevertheless, is resolutely DIY and you can’t help but wonder when one of his creations does comes together whether it’s done so by accident, sporadic genius or whether his dabbling in so many directions at once – the opener starts as “Adagio for synth” for God’s sake – is all part of some greater master plan. In any case, much of this material will likely never have been played the same way twice despite the years it’s taken to commit to tape. Heavy Air sprawls opulently instead, precisely as it wishes. Gunn wouldn’t have it any other way, so why would you?

Best track: “Those That Bend”

~Heavy Air is released on double vinyl/single CD March 20th 2016 via Holy Mountain.~