New York's multi-instrumentalist Azalia Snail devoted her career to enigmatic and arcane reconstructions of the hippie era. Snailbait (1990) wed Gong's cosmic psychedelia and Brian Eno's noise-pop, and Burnt Sienna (1992) indulged in psychedelic effects, amid distorted vocals and dissonant music, leading to the chaotic Fumarole Rising (1994), the culmination of her program of disintegration of the pop song.
Azalia Snail debuted with an affectionate tribute to the psychedelic age,
Snailbait (Albertine, 1990), in which she manipulated electronically
her vocals and overdubbed guitar, kalimba and zither.
The instrumental overture, Azalia Bloom #16, blends
frantic folk-guitar strumming and oneiric keyboard glissandos,
somewhere in between
Led Zeppelin's mustic hard-folk and
Gong's cosmic cabaret.
A similar guitar instrumental, Hiss And Crackle, ends in pure cacophony.
Not much more than an instrumental is Driftless, where the voice becomes
pure (dilated) abstraction and blends with the wavering guitar and
Sun In Your Face basically rewinds the album back to the pointless
strumming of Azalia Bloom #16, pure hypnosis for deranged minds.
Another Slave Labour Day, instead, begins the parade of
hallucinated chanting and guitar effects,
her vocals ranging from
angry young girl (Nothing And Everywhere)
to extra-terrestrial psychedelic elf (Flight #520)
to agonizing mermaid of the slums (Your Loss For My Gain)
to spaced-out garage rocker (Baby Brother)
to lunatic teenager in wonderland (Anywhere Is Here)
to dreamy and pastoral fairy-queen (Far And Away).
A 23-minute collage of singing, distorted tapes, found noises and assorted turbulence, So Much More To Go, crowns this humble albeit in its own way spectacular musical trip.
Just the guitar playing (hypnotic, chaotic, angular, jagged) with no support with a rhythm section ranks among the most original ideas of the era.
The Teenage Bedroom Tapes 1987-1991 (Union Pole, 1992) collects
music from the formative years.
La polistrumentista Azalia Snail si mise in luce nei circoli d'avanguardia di
Appassionata dell'epoca psichedelica, registro` tutta da sola un affettuoso
tributo a quelle sonorita`:
Snailbait (Albertine, 1990).
elettronicamente il proprio canto e sovra-incide chitarra, kalimba e cetra.
Il sound e` quello folle dei Gong piu` che quello spaziale dei Jefferson
Nelle sue ricostruzioni del sound psichedelico Azalia Snail
finisce sempre per immettere un elemento molto personale, enigmatico e arcano.
Burnt Sienna (Funky Mushroom, 1992), a humble work scored mainly for
voice and guitar (but heavenly enhanced with electronics), floats in a cosmic
orbit consecrated to multicolor trance.
This time around the reference point is Grateful Dead at their most
experimental, namely the sound effects and the instrumental detours of their
St. Nowhere and The Suspect frame the basic idea. The former
is a childish lullaby that turns hypnotic thanks to the
acoustinc strumming, the
banging of found percussions and the loud guitar distortions.
Equally naive and tuneful, the latter
has the happy-go-lucky flavor of a hare-krishna psalm.
Snail glides over the landscape with spaced-out and dissonant odes like
The Amulet and They Are Like The Sea.
The voice is often distorted, pushed deeper and deeper into the mind.
The acoustic guitar toys with a folksinger-style singalong
while (what is left of) the voice mumbles the rap of Keep Me Warmer.
The voice is completely pulverized in Worldwind Series,
a vortex of sampled vocals with the guitar simply beating the tempo.
The closest things to a rock song are Hard To Say,
whose riff is vaguely reminiscent of garage-rock (although the vocals
are mauled beyond recognition), and
Armoured Guard, that boasts a burning electric guitar on top of the
usual Dylan-ian strumming.
The difference between song and instrumental track is kind of fictitious, since
vocals are used as mere sounds, but the "truly" instrumental tracks stage a show
of their own:
Hit By A Car is an atmospheric piece
with a blues harmonica and distant whistling drowned in free-form
Sienna Burning is a wildly amorphous and dissonant raga; and
Chinese Horse Torture is just white noise.
Snail shuns both the pompous attitude of Pink Floyd and the
melodramatic pace of Velvet Underground and the relentless
dementia of Red Krayola. Her psychedelia is tender and joyful,
crazed but not devastating.
While it sounds different from Madcap Laugh, Snail has more in common
with Syd Barrett than a passion for illicit substances.
Burnt Sienna (Funky Mushroom, 1992) fluttua invece in un'orbita
cosmica all'insegna di una trance multicolore. Questa volta il riferimento
sono i Pink Floyd piu` sperimentali:
se i primi Pink Floyd avessero mai registrato un disco omettendo la parte
principale delle loro canzoni e lasciando soltanto gli effetti collaterali,
quel disco sarebbe stato simile a questo.
Ne vengono fuori ballate stralunate come St Nowhere e Armoured Guard,
roghi di voci ed
elettronica come The Amulet e Chinese Horse Torture,
piece strumentali d'insondabile indolenza come Sienna Burning e
Hit By A Car.
Mescolando lo strimpellio della chitarra acustica ai campionamenti piu` bizzarri
Snail scolpisce le miniature armoniche di Keep Me Warmer e Worldwind Series,
che sono forse il miglior testamento del suo testardo tributo alla psichedelia.
Hail/Snail is Azalia Snail with Suzane Lewis of Hail. They put out a few
singles before their only album.
How To Live With A Tiger (Funky Mushroom, 1993), composed and performed
together with Hail's Susanne Lewis, yielded even more ethereal songs
that redefined folk music in a colorful rhythm-less soundscape.
After the absolutely chaotic duet of Tigerture,
the girls send a postcard from paradise titled Savannah, a
serene melody accompanied by trumpet and electronics.
A dissonant violin pretends to punctuate the somewhat tragic tune
a garage organ dances around the nursery rhyme of
Little People In The Forest,
throws in all the instruments to create a symphonic disaster, surprisingly
Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom.
Their folk music is sabotaged by
fits of sloppy garage-rock (Shazam),
by high-brow Brecht-ian tones (Dust Gather On Me),
solemnly mystical overtones (Shoe/ Shoe Missing),
and pretty much never does what one expects.
The instrumental Frosted Flakes is a rare example of the marriage of anarchy and transcendence, of the Velvet Underground and the Red Crayola and who knows what else.
Fumarole Rising (Funky Mushroom, 1994) is possibly her most chaotic and
"total" collage. By indulging in psychedelic effects, she redesigns the
periphery of the genre.
Into Yr World (with a baroque trumpet soaring over a nursery rhyme,
velvet Underground-ian guitar, and steady, noisy drums),
and Cast Away (anchored to a childish and exotic element that recalls
still resemble songs, but
the "song" is hard to discern in compositions that defy rationality:
Please Don't Come (a vocal puzzle buried under abrasive distortion),
You Belong To You (an exorcism drenched in a multitude of percussions
and accompanied by a saxophone),
Misfortunately (a confused whisper against another wall of percussions),
Sour Cherry (an harmonica-led blues shuffle that floats weightless over
the rhythm of an Indian raga),
The Deep Fell Need (a dense, droning, vortex of instruments),
Solace Nemesis, (a spacey, psalm-like invocation with a gypsy-like coda),
The delirious, frantic, cacophonous bacchanal of Having An Experience,
the instrumental madness Hidden Addendum and Cuckoo Clock,
and the nocturnal abandon of Fumarole
even display divine inspiration.
Snail outdoes the classics, and becomes a classic herself.
Stampone (Choke, 1995) was a collaboration with
Daniel Oxenberg (Supreme Dicks)
Relocated to Los Angeles, Snail released the quiet and serene
Brazen Arrows (Dark Beloved Cloud, 2001).
Sylvan Echoes was recorded in 2003.
Compared with her psychedelic heydays, Avec Amour (Snailbait, 2005)
features much more structured and cohesive songs, whether
(symphonic keyboards, syncopated rhythm and hard-rocking bass guitar)
or Scenescape (hummable melody, echoing keyboard, electronic beat)
or I Praise You (a cross between a gospel hymn and a hare-krishna hymn)
or the Bjork-ian ode Sylvan Echoes.
They are balanced by the centerpiece, the
seven-minute bluesy emotional black-hole of Disintegration.
The mellow instrumentals Casuarina Trees and Late for the Life
show how far Azalia Snail has traveled, mentally and musically, over a decade
and a half.
Petal Metal (2008) is a double-disc retrospective.
Celestial Respect (Silber, 2011)
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