It’s amazing how some bands secure their place in rock history by making just a few very influential albums, whether or not they are commercially successful. The standard bearers of this phenomenon are obviously the Velvet Underground, whose four massively different albums each foreshadowed a different strand of indie rock 15-20 years later. Portishead pretty much defined trip hop and creepy, atmospheric electronica despite only having released three studio and one live albums. But the most striking example has to be My Bloody Valentine who in fifteen years have recorded only two albums. The first, Loveless, not only created that oft misunderstood and hugely influential genre, shoegaze, but also changed the way guitar is perceived in modern music. Following in the footsteps of avant guitar pioneers like Glenn Branca and Fred Frith, the electric guitar was deconstructed as a source of sound rather than of melody per se. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that melody itself was deconstructed, and the sheer physical quality of LOUD, fuzzed out guitars became a building block in song writing, much the same way Jimi Hendrix had done in the 60s.
MBV may be the missing link between pioneers of abstract guitar like Fred Frith and UK guitar player Simon Price of psychedelic underground rock band the Heads. Under the moniker Kandodo, Simon releases instrumental solo recordings that are mostly based around processed guitar, minimal drums, Korg synth and field recordings. k2o is his second full-length release, recorded over a period of three years in Bristol, London, Memphis, and the Italian shoreline. On it Simon continues to explore the realm of minimalist melodic and harmonic material, heavy on subtleties in tone, phrasing and layering.
Opener ‘Slowah’ reminds me of an outtake jam from U2’s Achtung Baby.
‘Grace and’ refers to Graceland and features field recordings of a guided tour through the Elvis Presley mansion over a guitar scape that sounds like a cross between Sonic Youth and MBV, building slowly and majestically to a sonic cathedral made of fuzzy, eerie guitar loops.
‘Waves’ is little more than a twangy acoustic guitar figure over the sound of waves, but works remarkably well in its Zen like simplicity.
‘Kandy rock mountain’ brings to mind a reptile crawling out of a cave of feedback, only to sit and bask in the heat of multiplying E-bowed guitar lines shimmering in the air like a fata morgana in the desert….This song is also a beautiful example of how Simon manages to create soundscapes that are forward moving and static at the same time, like a feedback fueled perpetual motion machine. ‘Kandy rock mountain’ slowly unveils itself, as sonic layers are added and peeled away, creating interesting harmonies and sonorities in the overlapping lines, at times bordering on counterpoint.
‘July 28th’ continues the visual metaphor of a sun baked desert, propelled by Moe Tucker-like tribal drums, built on acoustic slide guitar and ominously throbbing fuzz guitar, creating a psychedelic raga like effect. I could see this as the soundtrack to one of those tripped out LSD scenes from a 60s cult movie.
‘Swim into the sun’ is the record’s opus magnus, clocking in at 22 minutes. Building slowly, almost haphazardly, it evolves into a metaphorical train ride aboard the Fuzz Express through enchanted lands, with strange prehistoric guitar shaped birds flying by slowly. A metaphor made all the more fitting by the fact that Simon Price grew up in Malawi and Zambia, and his music presumably is shaped by his youthful memories of Africa.
With k2o, Kandodo has cemented its reputation as a force to reckon with in semi-abstract, instrumental guitar music that blends the sheer physical power of loud, fuzzed out guitars with elaborate cinematic soundscapes.