Friday, May 27, 2011

GOG/William Fowler Collins - "Malpais" (2011) [Utech Records]

So recently there's been a bit of an obsession with the "old west" in the music scene. What with Earth's resurrection, Cormac McCarthy's surge of popularity with the recent generation, and this recent mass influx of "modern Westerns" in American cinema we find more bands adding a bit of the "spice" and "dryness" to their sound. Now, I'm a big fan of anything Morricone-esque, however, a lot of these bands are starting to sound similar; they all draw from that similar, soundtrack-centered sound base. Some fresh air is needed to breathe some vitality back into the scene; something outside the realm of melody that really grasps the essence of what these people are trying to do...enter the collaborative sonic duo of New Mexico resident William Fowler Collins and Arizona native Mike Bjella's GOG.

"Malpais" literally translates from Spanish as "badland" or "bad country" - an area of eroded volcanic rock and uncharacteristic aridity that prevents any sort of plant life survival. Badlands, especially the iconic, eponymous Badlands in the Dakotas, can stretch for miles, leaving nary a slight wisp of green as far as the eye can see (check out the cover for a stirring example) This crumbling, lifeless yet organic hopelessness is echoed masterfully in Bjella and Collins's 5-part sound meditations, dedicated to the Malpaises.

I like to think of this album as a sonic representation of a dust-storm, moving majestically over the badlands. Beginning with the hollow echo of "Fire in the Valley," The lumbering giant slowly ambles across the arid plains and yet it seems distant, as if you've sought refuge in a tent, a cave, your car. It fluctuates in intensity, growing louder and softer. Eventually you are met with with a pulse - is it your heartbeat? Or is it the vestiges of some long-dead native tribe, left to echo across these dead lands? The storm continues, this time much more alien, metallic, with the drum/heartbeat becoming one with the haze...and suddenly it just...stops. You leave your huddle to see that, aside from some dusty residue here and there, nothing's changed, and the pensive, extreme and empty bass of "Of Ash and Wind" leaves you wondering, is this my effect on life? Am I merely a speck of dust in a sandstorm, leaving no noticeable mark on the world? Existential and fragile, you sit and think for a while.

Very much a "headphones" album, unless you have a great subwoofer, "Malpais" is the perfect marriage of William Fowler Collins's subtle, shifting noise with GOG's amplifier-worship drone. Though I enjoyed this collaboration, I do understand people's hesitance towards the droning, noisier side of things, and that's perfectly fine; this music isn't for anyone. For those of you who are brave and patient enough to venture into this more "advanced" side of music, "Malpais" is the thing for you. And for those of us who enjoy reading, be sure to grab your favorite Cormac McCarthy novel (mine being Blood Meridian) and read it with "Malpais" as a companion piece; you will see it with new eyes.

Be sure to see both GOG and William Fowler Collins, as well as pick up this wondrous collaboration, at URMF (or Utech Records Music Festival) in Milwaukee on June 11th, where they will share the stage with such acts as Locrian, Mamiffer, House of Low Culture, Horseback, and many, many more.


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