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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Major Tom revisited

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Not unlike the mysterious pillar suddenly appearing before the apes in Stanley Kubrick's 2001, the Detroit-based Oblisk is at once unknowable and undeniably present. Sounding like an even more disaffected Dean Wareham, lead singer-guitarist Asim Akhtar intones distance over ghostly organ and skittish drums, while guitars pick out delicate melodies or cyclic, oblong riffs.

More human than Hal, though, much of the time Oblisk is more like a musically fleshed-out version of Bowie's Major Tom — not the song in which he resides but the character himself, if he were given the opportunity to present his outer-space plight over the course of an entire album. He'd certainly still be de-Earthed and possibly on the verge of panic, but ultimately accepting of his disconnection with wistful abandon. And when the music here works best, Oblisk charges onward behind Akhtar, much like Tom's ever-hurtling spaceship — all roaring nitrogen, anti-gravity and sucking air.

Musically, Oblisk hasn't forgotten the effectiveness of basic psychedelia; the left-right panning looped guitar of Empty Film Reel (yes, that's a name) has all the effect of a sizable intake of nitrous oxide (please put the headphones on for this one), and as the unintelligible (backward?) vocals mumble desperately just below the surface and microscopic shards of guitar start pinpricking the skin, it just gets weirder. But a moment later, the listener is suddenly encased in the churning, swampy title track, and the contrast has the effect of flailing one's way through cobwebs in the House of the Long Shadows, only to hit on solid pavement when something like a chorus comes along. Safe ground! And then those guitars start back up in a shimmering arc toward the moon ...

It's that hazy unknowable quality that keeps the listener returning to these songs, as if there's some code to crack with just one more listen. It's likely, though, that in fact there is no code — just thick, webby psychedelia comfortably wrapped around some very good songs ... and far out of reach of Ground Control.


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