By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
He's a Solar Man
Sun Araw elevates and illuminates
Long Beach quintet Magic Lantern have been on a torrid creative spree for the past year. Their sporadic shows have been inspirational, psychedelic excursions that make me want to become one with the universe (as long as I don't have to clean it). Magic Lantern's debut, self-titled CD-R on Not Not Fun proved they could translate their transcendent live sprawl to the studio.
Now Magic Lantern guitarist Cameron Stallones has struck out on his own with a solo album under the moniker Sun Araw. It's titled The Phynx, "chosen solely for its formidable mystical power as a word," Stallones says.
Consisting of four tracks totaling almost 44 minutes, The Phynx occupies deep kosmische space much like Magic Lantern, but minus their sometimes-driving rhythmic thrust. Opening track "Fog Wheels" uses its nearly 16 minutes to generate a sublime whorl of drones, evoking some of the immortals of the form(lessness), including Japan's Taj-Mahal Travelers and Sweden's Pärson Sound. "Harken Sawshine" is reverberant, spindly space blues, like Spacemen 3 on the Delta or Henry Flynt in a hall of mirrors. "Hive Burner" is the most cathartic, angst-riddled cut here, verging on Skullflower-esque noise and menace, aided by what Stallones describes as Magic Lantern member William Giacchi's "great bass tone 'n' skree wizardry." "The Phynx" emits what sounds like a monk chanting from the ocean floor, then proceeds to creep, snarl and shudder, like the Dead C. covering the Stooges' "We Will Fall." In the last few minutes, it tapers off into a gentle squall. The end. Peace.
When it's done well, drone-based music can be a conduit to spiritual feelings—even (especially?) among atheists. Turns out that Stallones' religious beliefs partially fuel his creativity.
"One of the things that I find really appealing about more experimental drone-based psychedelia and the Eastern approach to music in general is that while rock & roll, soul, and blues are essentially about the ego and first-person narrative, good psych-drone and minimalism are essentially about transcendence and a certain sort of ego-death, which to me is at the heart of the Christian Gospel.
"I'm what you'd call a traditional or orthodox Christian," Stallones continues. "I go to an Anglican Catholic church and have a hearty interest in historical Christian mysticism. I do love soul, blues, and rock & roll—in that order—and a great psych-rock band is exciting to me because it's able to reach for both ends of the spectrum at once: the personal and the universal, the individual and the void.
"It's a cliché for psychedelic bands to use monastic or religious-mystic imagery in their music or art and easy to laugh at, but I think it's a cliché because good psychedelia, minimalism and drone do express something truly spiritual and transportive, quieting certain aspects of the self and trying to reach and move others. I don't mean to make it sound like I think what we're doing is all that important, but for me it can be very useful spiritually."
I recount to Stallones the artists of whom The Phynx reminds me (see above) and ask if they were influences.
"I love all those bands, and I think each definitely has a hand in Sun Araw. Pärson Sound is something much deeper than a 'favorite record'; it's utterly foundational for me. There's just an alchemy there and a monolithic simplicity that I don't think anyone has matched," he says. "I think also, for this record in particular, because of the bedroom nature of it, I was thinking a lot of Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs and some of Skip Spence's Oar. Those are both masterpieces, and I don't mean to compare The Phynx to them—I don't have even a glimmering of their cosmic magic—but there's something in the production and ambiance of those records that I wanted to use as a starting point."
Sun Araw is strictly a studio project, while Magic Lantern excel onstage. This allows a best-of-both-worlds scenario for Stallones.
"I think what I like about recording alone is that the infinite possibilities sort of make up for the lack of other people to bounce ideas off," he says. "That suits a solo-based project, and performances mean necessarily limiting some of those possibilities and limiting your palette. It's the opposite with Magic Lantern, where I think we prefer to play live rather than record because performing is such a communal act, which is the heart of what our music is about. We're working on new recordings that try a lot harder to preserve and build around a live performance."
While Stallones is about halfway done with the next Sun Araw album (plans for a 3-inch CD on Magic Lantern-mate Phil French's new Stunned Records are afoot, too), he will be mainly focusing on Magic Lantern for much of 2008. "We should have two full-lengths, a reissue of our first CD-R on vinyl, and a couple of splits/comps all coming out in the next six months," Stallones says. "We feel very blessed to be at a point where we literally can't record fast enough to do all the releases we get offered. We're just trying to keep the spirit."