Since forming in 2009, Manchester’s Dead Sea Apes have been steadily releasing music individually at an impressive rate or with an array of collaborators including writer/artist Adam Stone, Nottingham based Electronic Artist Maurice’s Hotel Death and Godalming’s Black Tempest. Ostensively labelled as a Psych band, their experimental instrumental sound has touched on elements of Prog Rock, Drone, Jazz and even dalliances with Dub that’s seen them craft an ever shifting landscape for their musical portfolio.
This time around, they once again turn to outside help for their latest inspiration. Joining the band for Night Lands is Nik Rayne, multi-instrumentalist, artist and singer for Arizona’s The Myrrors.
Much like Dead Seas Apes, the band from Tucson ply their trade in a heavily prog based blend of Drone, Psychedelic Experimentalism topped off with a touch of Krautrock for good measure. Making what they describe as ‘Sonaran Trance Music’ this is a reference to the neighbouring Sonoran Desert, the hottest desert in Mexico and much like the desert dry influences on the noodling of Gary Arce, and other heavy weights of the stoner rock scene, here Nik brings his expansive song writing experience to augment the already considerable talents contained in Dead Sea Apes.
Recorded live and composed off the cuff as improvised pieces whilst Rayne was visiting the UK, the three epic length tracks (19.45/13.30/9.11 minutes respectively) show off an uncanny ability for the collective to blend and meld together in completer symbiosis. Night Lands sounds like a carefully considered and structured composition that moves through themes and motifs with relative ease and almost effortless fluidity.
First and longest track No Friends But The Mountains is a mesmerising work out that’s dominated by the wondering, beautiful guitar tones that offer a plaintive, but playful narrative that guides you, be it in the individual opening and closing picked notes whilst the rhythm section tones their input down or the more urgent rush where all combine to crank the tension and heaviness of the piece.
Not only is the running time impressive, but so too is the depth of the music. This is a seriously layered and complex composition, the synths help the pulsing rhythm rise, fall and swirl like some majestic, sweeping aerial camera shot over a titular mountain range.
The ebb and flow of the music and the back and forth interplay between the musicians makes this all the more impressive that it was off the cuff; the chemistry for members to back off and allow each individual to shine does them huge amounts of credit. There are moments of subtle quiet that make you realise the dominant sound is Jack Toker’s dexterous bass or the delicately teased cymbals of Chris Hardman before the music swells and it bursts with the full chorus of all involved in a heady rush.
The title track is a dark affair thematically following the first. Creeping and cautious sounds building and ringing in an almost exploratory fashion. More downbeat and stilted in its style, Night Lands doesn’t flow in a manner than sets you at ease. There is a slight menace to the pulse and the tones, previously inviting and comforting, feel more discordant as they once again build in structure.
the synths help the pulsing rhythm rise, fall and swirl like some majestic, sweeping aerial camera shot over a titular mountain range…
Dead Sea Apes over the course of their evolution have grown to make albums (and make no mistake, despite the sparsity of tracks this is very much an album) that uses the last as a springboard to catapult them off to new areas of exploration which has a similarity with Sons of Alpha Centuari’s project with Gary Arce’s Yawning Sons, albeit a more brooding affair. This is fitting for a band who are named after a fable of Dead Sea dwellers who supposedly turned a deaf ear to God and were turned to stone. This has now become a metaphor for describing someone who has come to possess a weariness about them and elements of the music seem to mirror this mind set.
Night Lands build from the graceful beauty of the first track to the harder edged final track A Slow Heart Beats Hard which buzzes with an abrasive space rock that seems more direct and intensely focused than before.
The word that kept coming back to me over and over again while listening to this album was ‘cinematic’. Very much three acts in terms of structure, each song then moves through several phases, recycling previously used refrains and musical ideas, but subtly playing off them and evolving until, with a fatigued lack of grace, the album almost comes to a sudden stop, rather than the delicate considered build and release that has gone before.
Night Lands washes over you in a manner that can be all encompassing or it can simply just pass you by, but in some respects this could be a criticism of the genre, not the band. This type of music is a mood amplifier rather than a club filler and you either get it or you don’t and as such there are going to be people who are equally thrilled by this album or they are going to dismiss it out of hand.
So cards on the table time… this is a fantastic album, if you like that sort of thing.
Personally I do, and this is the kind of album I could put on over headphones, sit in a darkened room and while away the hours lost in it thoroughly. It’s well constructed, extremely well executed and tells a story over the course of its 40 plus minutes.
If you don’t find Experimental, Psychedelic, Drone flavoured Instrumental Rock your jam, this is unlikely to transcend the genre and give you a road to Damascus moment and that’s okay. Fans of Dead Sea Apes will be very happy and if you like to dabble your toes in the water of this particular pool this should definitely be on your playlist this year.