Reading the book of spectral projections

In preparation for Outrageous Cherry’s fifth album, bandleader Matthew Smith went out and bought each member both Nuggets box sets. This was actually a more efficient, less expensive strategy on Smith’s part than when in ’94 he treated the crew to rare vinyl by the Incredible String Band, Françoise Hardy, Scott Walker, the MC5, Brian Eno and Richie Havens in order to gear up for a brilliant covers album, Stereo Action Rent Party. As you might guess, then, The Book of Spectral Projections is all about homage — to the sound, images, attitude and oftentimes elusive vibe of psychedelia.

But what you might not guess is that, for Smith, “homage” doesn’t mean “replication.” In a discussion a few years ago with me about his favorite producers — Phil Spector, Joe Meek and Brian Wilson — Smith pointed out, “When I sit down at the mixing board I tend to work intuitively. Because once you start trying to re-create something — what I’m looking for [is] just something magical, and it doesn’t have to sound like what I thought it was going to sound like in the first place as long as there’s something going on that’s greater than the sum of the parts.”

One part magic, one part intuition and several parts craft, this ambitious song cycle finds Smith, guitarist Larry Ray, bassist Aran Ruth and drummer Deg Agolli (since replaced by Carey Gustafson) embarking upon a long night’s musical passage into day while Smith’s lyrical themes peek and poke around behind the cranial doorways of perception and dreams. It all begins with the title track’s invocation of “Let the magic start/Make me stay the night,” concluding some 19 songs and 77 minutes later, in “It’s So Nice to Be Here” and with a palpable sense of exhausted relief, “In between these dreams the stars were blinking/And reality is just something you were thinking … It’s so nice to be here.” In between, the song titles tell the tale: “Wide Awake in the Spirit World,” “Through Parallel Dimensions,” “When You Emerge,” “Spectral Sunrise.” It’s not a rock opera per se, but entering this (un)quiet vibration land yields an amazing journey just the same.

To that end, Outrageous Cherry ladles out thick strobeadelic goo (a deaf, mute and blind Peter Fonda staggers into a Hawkwind gig for “Shadow of My Universe”), twisted cosmic surf (“Through Parallel Dimensions” rams a Dick Dale lick through a Spaceman 3 syringe), white-hot/white-heat blooze (“The Astral Transit Authority” is the best Velvets outtake you never heard) and handclaps-and-fuzztone garage psych (the Electric Prunes have a psychotic reaction during “Everything’s Back to Normal”). Not to mention enough sproingy sitars, strummy acoustic guitars and strings-sounding-like-mellotrons-sounding-like-strings to keep a commune full of Earth Shoe-wearing hash disciples grokking the OC fullness for at least a fortnight.

True to Smith’s intent, the whole is greater than the sum here. Although it must be said, half the fun is in tallying up the individual parts.

Outrageous Cherry will perform at Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit) on Saturday, May 11. The Alphabet and Chicago’s Family Haircut are also on the bill. Show time is 10 p.m. Call 313-961-4668 for information.

E-mail Fred Mills at [email protected]
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