As I watch drummer Thomas Heather, I’m instantly reminded of a goat tumbling down a mountainside. Limbs in apparent disarray, with the rhythm – a flurry of improvisation and toppling snare delays – miraculously staying upright. Guitarist Marcus Hamblett decks the surface of the beats with a series of sunbeams, warm and optimistic like morning. Sometimes it’s just drums in dialogue with their own warped, mutating delays, like someone reacting to their reflection in a concaved circus mirror, but when the crisp pedal fuzz returns I’m hit with a pang of the psychedelic. But it’s a psychedelia of fresh air and rare, uninterrupted lucidity – of countryside winds setting the nostrils alight, and momentary Americana licks (smattered among the improv runs) that hit me like vapour.
After traversing Hamblett’s undulating hillsides, I step inside Eric Chenaux’s illusionary living room – heated by log fire, nestled in warm autumnal colours – and kick my shoes off. By now I know his latest album well, although each time I hear the material of Skullsplitter, Chenaux emerges with different tufts of improvisation dangling from his pockets, the songs decorated with the frays and manual repairs of taking them on tour, littered with conversational pauses and stumbling guitar solos. His voice drips at the centre like candle wax. Sometimes the songs stop momentarily as though Chenaux is racking his brains for the correct phrasing. At one point he veers into an extended guitar solo, like a fleeting anecdote that unravels into an extended stretch of nostalgic retelling. What always strikes me about his performance is the merge of uninhibited intimacy (woozy romance, even) and the charms of the unknown. How does his guitar transform into the sound of a rubber organ, or mimic the gentle wane of firelight? Even as his guitar bends drunkenly away from the desired note, the intention is clear and unwavering – like saying “I love you” and accidentally dribbling in the process.
Matana Roberts also strands me in sound, although here I don’t have the known intimacy of coherent songs to keep me company. Her saxophone probes like a lighthouse beam, protruding through the blanket of archive, synthesisers and suspended abstract thought, illuminating the various annuls of place and time. History crumples and folds into the present – she records her own voice and then plays it back through withered tape, as the immediate past is swiftly trampled into ancient, lo-fi sediment. “Doctor doctor, I’m very ill,” she whispers, as a low drone hums like the blurry nausea that afflicts her and I. Large swathes of sound rush through me and dizzy me further: taped voices in reverse, memories in archival disarray, fragmented loops locked into stuttering printer jam, as though the pathway from idea to sonic manifestation is clogged with all that could be. All the while, projections come and go upon the wall behind her. Old sepia family photos. The flicker of passing trains. Postcards from 1913. I see and hear Roberts as the visible peak that protrudes above an unseen mass of event, location, ancestry, political and racial circumstance. Into the mire her voice probes with forefinger and thumb, retrieving strands of memory and idea one at a time. “You know the crazy thing about slavery is that slavery is happening right now,” she declares. “History repeats itself. Slavery repeats itself.”