Monday, December 8, 2008

Salamander - Birds of Appetite (2003)

Salamander is a band I know next to nothing about (you can find a more complete bio at Camera Obscura); based out of Minneapolis, this troupe of psychedelic marauders has apparently been turning out their own smoldering brand of space rock since the early 90's, although the label bio linked to above would seem to suggest the band's currently status as one of semi-permanent hiatus. While the basic instrumentation here is somewhat standard psych-rock fare (guitar/bass/drums), the band prides itself on both its non-traditional use of said rock instrumentation and its use of non-traditional rock instrumentation, including "hammered dulcimer, shenai (an oboe-like instrument), and something they call the 'space whistle'." This particular album, 2003's Birds of Appetite, was my first introduction to these masters of ambiance (though I have no idea how or where I discovered it), and it remains my favorite of their works.

While the Om-like album opener 'Vessel is Vacant' suggests strict Summer of Love worship with its tablas and half-chanted vocals, it's eventual descent into gentle drone foreshadows the album's subsequent minimalist turn. On Birds, Salamander is most successful at creating long, smoldering songs that utilize crescendo much as a post-rock band might without falling into the conventions of that most amorphous of genres; for all of it's bombastic song lengths (it does feature four songs over the eight-minute mark), this album has a distinct late-night psych feel matched by a earthy, folkish tone. With little or no vocals on most of the sparsely layered tracks, the music is left here to speak for itself, evoking a mystical, haze-ridden atmosphere with a drummer and lead guitar player who make no attempt to mask the influence of Indian classical music on their playing styles. The band's name - which comes to us from a semi-mystical animal thought in ancient times to be born of fire - is a perfect fit for the mood achieved here, at once brooding, lysergic and somehow vaguely alchemical.

Those of you with a Paypal account can still get the 'Birds of Appetite' CD here, or download it from us.