splendid > reviews > 9/30/2005
The Vocokesh
The Vocokesh
Through the Smoke
Strange Attractors

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Through the Smoke"

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From the ordinary Midwestern streets of Milwaukee, home of Liberace, cheap beer and high carb, high fat diets, come mind-blowing space-rock jams and electric guitar freakouts. The Vocokesh, named after Blue Cheer producer Abe "Voco" Kesh, is the 15 year-old offshoot of Milwaukee experimentalists F/I. Headed by guitarist Richard Franecki, the group churns out spine-tingling psychedelic drones and smouldering guitar solos in a sound that melds Nurse with Wound with Hendrix, Throbbing Gristle with Pink Floyd.

The album begins with "Vibe #6"'s ominous, cinematic tones, all cymbal rolls and pulsing, half-buried bass and drums. John Helwig, Franecki's longtime collaborator, enters a minute into the track with a scorching guitar line that melts into shifting time signatures and molten waves of distortion. Temporarily disoriented, the song finds its rhythm again in a drum beat, guitar riffs darting, gongs ringing, synthetic keyboards pinging around the steady drum beat. Dark and foreboding and always in motion, it's movie music without the movie, the soundtrack for stories set against ruined urban landscapes. "The Vocokesh Theme Song", which follows, is jagged with buzzing feedback, built on a monumental riff that is melody and rhythm together, tinged with vibrating surf tones and electronic sounds. The long, mysterious title track, clocking in at over a quarter of an hour, layers bell-toned synth notes over a miasmic wash of shifting sound. Rattlesnake percussion weaves in and out of the mix, threatening and disappearing, as the bells turn gamelan foreign and multifaceted. All atmosphere and mood, the piece curls like its titular smoke, filling the space with vague, shifting images and ideas. Five minutes in, there's a slow, hard-slapped drumbeat upon which to hang less organic structures, and a circling, psychedelic guitar solo adds sinew and heft to the composition. The music ebbs and flows, quieter bits alternating with surges of guitar pyrotechnics and finally fading into its end.

Shorter and more tightly plotted, "New Cropcircle Boogie" is an album highlight, with its blistering bouts of feedback and water-drop-like tonal sound-blurts. The drums here, played by Hadley Kahn, are maniacally intense, pulsing and beating in waves under the searing double guitars, echoed by a bass that's barely audible in the mayhem. The disc closes with the tranquil, Eastern-toned meditations of "Sunday Afternoon", its massive drone punctuated by cymbal crashes and overlaid with electronic squelches and squalls.

Listening to The Vocokesh is a transforming experience; it takes you to a place where your mind is empty of rational thought but alive with colors and shapes. Like Kinski, Acid Mothers Temple and Circle, Franecki and his band break through consciousness with experimentally altered rock sounds, guitar solos from the psychedelic 1960s layered onto the trance-inducing bedrock of rhythmic repetition. The Vocokesh is a studio band -- it has never toured and never played live, yet its music has a communal quality, as if it's expressing some sort of tribal certainties through its sound. If the words "drone" or "psych" mean anything positive to you at all, you'll want to check this out.



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