The last time we checked in with the lusty psychedelic scene of the Twin Cities, there were such bands as . . . er, uhh . . . well, Prince, and Soul Asylum, and of course those space-rockin' Replacements . . . whew. In any event, better late than never. Minneapolis and surrounding burgs have been quietly stashing away LSD for a decade or so, finally getting up the nerve to spike the community water supply a couple of years ago. The results? A ground swell of lysergic musical investigations that peels back the inner eyelid with great finesse. Witnesses for the prosecution: Skye Klad and Salamander.
The former group has been around since about '99, combining the churning dissonance of Can and Sonic Youth, the full-on fuzztone skree of Hawkwind and Spacemen 3 and the arena-size heaviness of Floyd and Sabbath. Skye Klad is psychedelic in the classic sense. The singer in particular helps keep things grounded; his baritone provides a Bauhaus/Doorsian edge to the songs, although his flair for the extemporaneous might suggest former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki at times as well. The compelling "Toxaphene" perfectly sums up the group's modus operandi: throbbing rhythm section powered by a neo-surf bass line, insistent maracas and tambourine, zooming/arpeggioed guitars, and chanted vocal incantations draping things in dark drama. "Drama" in fact is an operative term for Skye Klad, and when listening to this debut album one readily imagines liquid light shows and laser displays accompanying the sonics.
Salamander, by contrast, sets its controls on a subtler, more impressionistic path to the heart of the sun. The band is no less psychedelic, however, simply unconcerned with velocity or volume, similar at times in tone and texture to both Bardo Pond and Bevis Frond or, to cite older precedents, Quicksilver and Ash Ra Tempel. Densely echoed multitracked strings (acoustic and electric guitars, hammered dulcimer, bass), treated percussion, whispery samples, loops and E-bow, snatches of space-whisper voices -- all collide and coalesce in a globular prism of sound before being sucked down through a wormhole of blissful drones. There's a pervasive raga-rock vibe, too -- Middle Eastern-tinged pastoral folk-rock has always enjoyed its close kinship with psych -- making a song like "Minutia Divine" the perfect contrasting chill-out to the interplanetary whoosh of preceding number "Ithsmus" [sic]. This is Salamander's third album since '97, a double-LP (or 65-minute CD) with hints of non-grandiose conceptual sci-fi unity; one cut, "Trench of Fire," runs for 20 minutes, while "Yomin" contains passages featuring Leonard Nimoy reciting words penned by Ray Bradbury. It's easily one of the most accomplished and riveting slabs of mind expansion to turn up in recent memory, a high-water mark for any locale or period, not just for Minneapolis circa 2001.
Note that the two groups are more than just water brothers musically and spiritually. They're joined at the hip literally as well, sharing a couple of members. For that matter, multi-instrumentalist Erik Wivinus, of both outfits, has his own side project, an ambient folk-psych duo called Gentle Tasaday, and he also guests on a fellow Salamander's side project, Vortex Navigation Company, which no doubt by now has spawned additional side projects . . . you get the drift. Psychedelia's funny like that. It just keeps replicating and mutating, and the Twin Cities space-rock scene appears to be a fertile Petri dish of musicality.