by Joe Gutierrez
Listening to Spiral Wave Nomads is akin to embarking along a new trail for the first time, eye caught by twisted branches and flickering birds’ wings. Brush-crowded paths open onto vast expanses, meadows sprawl out before rocky coves, the sounds and rhythms of lapping lake waves licking at your eardrums. The music here could be traced through the decades along a jagged line leading back to the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” or the Kinks “See My Friends,” early standouts amongst the bubbling psychedelic music of the 1960s. Spiral Wave Nomads reach a little further, drawing influence from free improvisation, jazz, noise, raga, folk, and ambient music, mapping out a vast galaxy of guitar swirls, bass bellows, and drum storms.
Eric Hardiman (Burnt Hills, Rambutan, Century Plants) and Michael Kiefer (Myty Konkeror, More Klementines, Rivener) combine their powers to quilt together a delicious menagerie of tunes. Hardiman, hailing from Albany, NY, and Kiefer, from New Haven, CT, have a long history of exploring the capabilities of sound, delivering sacred records of out-there compositions and improvisations via small labels over the last decade. This is their first collaboration. Hardiman plays guitar, bass, and sitar, while Kiefer handles the drumming. The players demonstrate an impressive capacity for tuning in to each others’ every move, ear trained on the slightest variation in snare roll or scamper up the guitar neck.
The album kicks off with “Blue Dream,” guitar shimmering open, tickled with brushed cymbal and snare. It morphs into an ethereal canvas upon which Hardiman’s electric guitar paints alien landscapes. Garnished with Kiefer’s rollicking drum fills, the track stretches out and allows Hardiman to showcase the nooks and crannies possible in guitar soloing. “Wabi Sabi” is a less conventional composition, emitting a nearly 12-minute sedative of sitar-driven drone, littered with Kiefer’s improvised, free-jazz drums. He conjures up wild, spastic, jagged, zig-zag jitters of percussion while Hardiman’s guitar and sitar harmonies lurch and quiver. A high guitar melody soars, leading the drums into the whisper of a groove, which dissipates as suddenly as it arrives. There are no expectations, no directions, no destinations. “Wabi Sabi” is a exercise in how to be present. “Vanishing Edges” starts as soft psychedelia and peels back the wallpaper to expose what’s underneath. It’s a slow, groovy number with chiming rhythm guitar upon which Hardiman utilizes effects pedals to create gliding solos mining the recesses of the mind. Two lead guitars intertwine, spacey threads all tangled together, while bass melodies puncture here and there. Kiefer rides the cymbals and snare throughout, casting an ataractic glow.
Entering ambient territory, “Elysium” is a bubbling looped drone with improvised, sporadic drums and guitar. The sounds call to mind the whirring of machines, the creaking of steel, reversed motions, fingertips touching plants with your eyes closed. The musicians play off each other, a warped ping-pong match in 4D. It crumbles away and morphs into “Floating On A Distant Haze,” a spacey psych journey that’s a vehicle for Hardiman’s frantic guitar explorations. There’s a definite Eastern influence here, the solos and scales mimicking the sensation of desperately sprinting through an infinite hedge maze with no exit in sight. Kiefer skillfully conveys that immediacy through staggered snare tumbles, resounding tom rolls, and hair-raising cymbal snaps. The record closes with “Patterns of Forgotten Flight”. There’s a great atmospheric intro, guitarist and drummer woozy and wandering. Pieces fall apart and come back together with a magnet-like summoning. Melodies and harmonies appear in snags and snatches, shirt sleeves caught on thorny branches. It’s meandering psychedelic sound, no groove until the end, when the two players lock in and tug shut eyelids called by waiting dreams.
Spiral Wave Nomads exists as an opportunity to experience the range of instrumental rock music. It mixes and morphs genres, creating a colorful diorama of pleasing ear-worms. Kiefer and Hardiman mine the history of psychedelia, displaying their colorful versatility and adept talent at listening and responding. It’s a joy to sit through this record, and a good lesson in paying attention. Try it out.