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Songs We Love: Cloudland Canyon, 'Psychic Insistent'

Cloudland Canyon
Courtesy of the artist
Cloudland Canyon

<em>An Arabesque</em> (Medical Records 2016)
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
An Arabesque (Medical Records 2016)

In its early days, around 2002-08, the sounds made by Kip Uhlhorn's Cloudland Canyon seemed like an artsy-fartsy, lo-fi futurist blast. Alongside garage-rock stalwart Simon Wojan (future King Khan & The Shrines) and surrounded by an evolving cast of equally forward-thinking underground-music smarties, Uhlhorn was a Memphis-based, many-instrument-playing ex-hardcore kid escaping his screamo roots by ascending towards the long, deep light; which in his case meant a mix of rhythmically knowing Krautrock, drone psychedelia and tuneful analog synth ambience. It was, whether he knew it or not, a tasteful kind of experimentalism, executed by great ears, on the wings of a desire to combine these elements with post-Millennial social tensions into something that was cool and weird — but also, quite often, warm and inviting.

Of course, times change; or, as the late 20th century philosopher, Hunter S. Thompson observed, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." What once may have seemed like a sonic outlier is now ... if not quite mainstream, then much closer to the center than the fringe. This is how An Arabesque, shockingly only Cloudland Canyon's third proper album, has as its cast an array of Memphis insiders, musical pros like Jody Stephens (Big Star) and David Scott Stone (the Melvins/LCD Soundsystem) and features the production oversight of former Spaceman 3 co-conspirator Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember, who aided in the creation of Panda Bear's Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper.

It also explains "Psychic Insistent," Arabesque's almost-pop, melodic stand-out, a song of epic beauty, thoughtful dread and toe-tapping insistence. It is, for one, a waltz, with ghostly layers-of-harmony vocals by Kip and his wife Kelly enveloping a rhythm mapped by keyboards, sequencer arpeggios and percussively slicing, effects-laden guitar. (For more than half the track, nary a percussion instrument is in earshot — and when one appears, it a muted cymbal.) Like the best shoegazing prescriptions, "Psychic Insistent" rises simply — starting quiet and rickety, and then scaling the wall of sound in the vein of (with apologies to Kember) a classic Spiritualized track or a My Bloody Valentine b-side. This is no longer anybody's idea of artsy or futurist, so much as an aging generation's "folk" music — a thing of current beauty that taps into memories its creators are only now coming to terms with.

An Arabesque is out now on Medical Records.

If you're in Austin this week, check out Cloudland Canyon at SxSW, and explore the music of more great artists appearing at SxSW with NPR Music's Austin 100.

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