Sun Araw: Verifiable field research on inter-dimensional living

Samuel Breen

icongivethank 300x200 Sun Araw: Verifiable field research on inter dimensional livingAs part of the ‘freakways’ series (or FRKWYS as it is typed), a pair of psychedelic noiseniks from LA have collaborated with a vocal group from St. Catherine’s Parish, Jamaica. In doing so, they have produced a trend-beating audible journey, loaded with spiritual guidance and cosmic sounds.

Opening with an intense pastel bleach, the camera pans down between a thin blanket of cumulus clouds, the colour has been distorted with the ocean showing bright emerald, purple, orange, and blue. It cuts to onboard a boat with friend of The Congos, Gloryland, bowing, hands in prayer, “Give thank,” he drawls with a toothy smile. The idea is that we are inhabiting a more Holy land, one with Technicolor waters, and pastel panoramas – an idyll, a Zion.

The Congos are a vocal trio from Jamaica, renowned for the soft harmonies of members  ‘Ashanti’ Roy Johnson. Cedric Myton, and Watty Burnett. They found fame in the late 70s with their Heart of the Congos LP. Produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry the record is steeped in psychedelia; guitars strike as chimes and a delicate strumming on a record never short on spiritualism, never relenting on ideology.

Icon Give Thank, the collaborative album and documentary of the same name, captures new age U.S. experimentalists Cameron Stallones a.k.a. Sun Araw, and M. Geddes Gengras as they travel to the studio of Cedric Myton in Portmore, Jamaica. From the ten days that ensue we are introduced to the quotidian practices of the group, their peers The Tartans, and others, such as Gloryland. We are offered a pedestrian deconstruction of how the players arrived at the record.

In the two days before the film crew arrive Cameron and Ged pieced together the tracks with a handful of pre-recordings.

“We had some pretty minimal drum loops and stuff we made back in LA,” Cameron tells me, “but for the most part the first few days was just a mad scramble of tracking, plugging ideas into ideas and letting those feedback loops start building.”

The film captures children playing and adults smoking, interactions with locals and gorgeous food; one scene captures Winston “Drummerman” Jones preparing a carrot, cabbage and pumpkin broth, and a peanut butter and bulgur porridge; “Natural food, natural drumming.” Occasionally one of The Congos appears in shot with a portable Discman, listening to the tracks that the newcomers had prepared for their vocal.

“Once it became clear that the structure was going to be me and Ged making the rhythms, and then vocal tracking later, it sort of freed us to just cast our nets. For about 48 hrs or more we didn’t really leave the studio,” says Cameron. “The Congos would wander in and out, to hear how it was coming and start generating ideas for lyrics and melodies. We would burn early mixes as fast as we could for them and they would listen on headphones, to work out the vocal lines. Then there were about four days of just vocal tracking, which you see in the film.”

In the documentary, Cameron notes that the record “emanated from the situation I was in,” and that he, “never would have made it.”

“Its just an exceedingly strange record, the sounds, the instrumentation, everything was dictated by other forces. The right forces. When I listen to it I still marvel at what an exact hanging space it occupies somewhere between my inclinations, Ged’s inclinations, and then brought into deep orbit around those voices, which provide the cosmic liftoff.”

Listen to Happy Song from ICON GIVE THANK here

Both Cameron and Ged are associated with vanguard LA label Not Not Fun; Cameron releases many of his Sun Araw records on the label, and Ged is known for his involvement with in-house bands such as Pocahaunted, LA Vampires, and Robedoor. Between them they are recognised for melding psychedelia with raw DIY instrumentatio – such as tape dubs and guitar loops – pushing the music to increasingly distorted and unusual territories.

The introduction of The Congos’ spiritual practices to Cameron and Ged seemingly found synthesis with their own aspirations, with all parties attempting to create an ‘otherness’ in the music.

“We’ve been back down since that first time and both trips functioned unintentionally as verifiable field research on inter-dimensional living,” posits Cameron, “The first couple of hefty clues that there is a way out. There is a trap-door.”

Much like Lee Perry’s production for The Congos, there are numerous, sporadic motifs that run through Icon Give Thank – a play off between lively percussion, warping guitars, and the porcelain falsetto of Cedric Myton. Additionally, the rhythm-bending riffs of Sun Araw dominate each track to great effect.

The term ‘Fusion Music’ may be just as outmoded as its culinary counterpart, with both audiences and diners seeking atavistic authenticity. As with those at the forefront of cultural thinking toying with the amalgamation of digital and analog, Icon Give Thank operates in such liminal spaces.

Opines Cameron, “It feels very much like a part of me, I think people will hear the similarity in tones and structure. But the Congos’ vocals really do sort of place it in another dimension. It’s such a blessing.”

Icon Give Thank by Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras meet The Congos is out now on RVNG Intl.

The collective play at Village Underground, London, June 22 a part of the Barbican’s Summer Music 2012 programme.

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