Album Reviews

Plankton Wat – Drifter’s Temple

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 9 September 2013


Plankton Wat - Drifter's TempleSince leaving Eternal Tapestry in 2012, Plankton Wat is now Dewey Mahood’s main musical outlet. Although he’s used the moniker before, primarily as an outlet for his improvisations and limited releases, Drifter’s Temple represents something slightly more concrete than his previous work under the name.

Except, this being Mahood, there’s nothing concrete about Drifter’s Temple at all. An album recorded by one of the most impressive improvisers in the psych-rock scene, based on his surroundings and memories from childhood in northern California, was always going to be elusive and dreamlike. Although improvisation is usually at the heart of Mahood’s approach, these songs were created and crafted from hours of rehearsal, performance and jamming.

Yet despite this, they retain a free flowing and loose ambience that doesn’t sound tied down. Completely instrumental, and almost entirely stripped of percussion, these songs are primarily guitar driven mediations/medications designed to allow the mind to drift and form landscapes and worlds of its own. Part of the album’s magic is its ability to sound as if these melodies have been grasped from thin air, but also the lo-fi nature of the recording. It was laid down on a 4-track and it would appear that very little cleaning up of the performances was done. The presence of string noise during chord changes for example gives Drifter’s Temple the sound of an intimate, but cosmic live performance.

Opening with Toward The Golden City the album begins with a shimmering metallic drone that emerges from a desert haze. From there it develops into a laid back acoustic strum peppered with the decaying remnants of a 1970s country rock guitar solo. The chiming reverb drenched guitars of Changing Winds conjure up similar imagery, the undulating bassline giving a strange water depth to the song. When a swathe of feedback and noise cuts across the calm like a steely tornado before blowing itself out into a laidback hippy strum, the likes of Wooden Shjips are called to mind.

It’s the bass that provides the depth, space and core of Klamath At Dusk, a song that takes the album away from earthly delights and looks towards the heavens. The chiming guitars hang in the cosmos, twisting around each other like the tendrils of some far off galaxies. Empire Mines returns to earth and initially explores an English folk inspired melody but, as it grows in stature, it takes on the feel of Americana, like a strange drone version of Buffalo Springfield. There are hints of English folk later too on Dance Of Lumeria in particular; again it is used sparingly, but it’s most certainly there before the influence of Americana takes hold. Whether there’s any significance to this is anyone’s guess, but it adds an interesting flavour to the album.

Things then begin to get a little more fried. Hash Smuggler’s Blues is a woozy, almost incoherent workout. Fizzing behind the stumbling guitar lines is a fizzing electrical wash that gives the song an uncomfortable, paranoid edge. It’s spaced out, but oddly wired at the same time. Similarly, the almost classical tones of Western Lament are eventually swamped by waves of distorted guitar. Any notions of delicacy are crushed beneath the suffocating noise layered on as the track draws to a conclusion; it’s like being witness to a sudden mudslide or watching a national park disappear into a sinkhole. Siskiyou Caverns also features  sinister nuances; awash with feedback and squalling guitars, it’s like listening to Metal Machine Music in Wookey Hole.

Drifter’s Temple is an album to get lost in, of that there is no doubt. These compositions clearly mean something personal to Mahood and whilst it is impossible to understand exactly what, they nevertheless paint a quite stunning musical landscape that ultimately will come to form something of value to those who hear them and take the time to explore with him.


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