I can just see it now, for some absurd reason. An image of that very first meeting: a cheap retelling of a yarn straight from the bygone pages of rock’s most glorious annal and bedecked in the rich and colourful folklore collected through the years. The record company executive stalking his sepia coloured high-rise domain but now shorn of the usual seventies’ sideburns, large sunglasses, kipper tie and fat cigar, for time moves on.
“So? Which one’s Terry?”
“We had a huge list of names,” and that of a well known radio host just happened to be the one that fitted them best.
Terry Gross, the band not the Philly presenter, are vocalist and guitarist Phil Manley, from the new wave rock band Trans Am, “Surrender to the Night” and “Futureworld”, Donny Newenhouse on bass and drummer Phil Becker, banging and thumping out their no-holds-barred yet stunning cosmic rhythm. Three experienced musicians from the Bay Area of San Francisco, who just thoroughly enjoy jamming and improvising together without any weighing burden of expectations other than testing the boundaries of the newly assembled gear in their El Studio. Simply playing for the pure unbridled and unabridged joy of it. Of seeing what comes, of what arrives. The chemistry soon blossomed into a deep camaraderie and with it, totally unforced, came a sound that continued to emerge and expand as the tape players rolled, capturing all of the exuberance and every energising coloured tone of their fervour. The sound they made illuminated and elevated these accidental recordings, even more so as they deftly pushed and crafted their studio into what they refer to now as their, “collective instrument”. The three track album, Soft Opening, is what eventually emerged, gradually taking shape over the course of 2016 to 2019, the three of them continually and carefully refining each song.
Over the first 19 minutes that spark and fire the album into fiery life, you are shaken at break-neck speed from their launch pad, through, and to, all these sudden, new and wonderful possibilities, a helpless passenger having to hold on tight with now white knuckles as bass and electric guitars, forever accompanied by the almost psychotic arrangement of heavily beaten drums, are carried upwards to eventually break clear from the tug of their particular atmosphere… To be then left in almost calmness that emerges colourfully on the other side. To take breath now, cushioned on lyrics that echo and search while bidding you onwards and upwards into this newly revealed wonder of the universe, left to float on all the wonderfully endless and intimate possibilities: a new universe created with the technology within El Studio, and where words like “tetrahedronal” and casual mentions of a, “polycarbonate alien scape”, seem perfectly acceptable and at home, to be tossed into the hub and mix of the conversation as the guitars are made to screech unnaturally in chorus, and the drums are continually thumped towards submission and acceptance.
“Solar ultraviolet beams down/Electric crystal transmits sound”. What a sound! A sound that, “the aero shell sheds towards the ground”.
It is an edgy modern opera of the guitars’ wild electric rhythms and a drum’s manic heartbeat. An opening 19 minutes of foot-tapping, well-practiced jams that pulse with such a fervour; Stairway To Heaven, A Day In The Life, Bohemian Rhapsody?
The relentless throbbing of Worm Gear grows and grows into an evermore electrically challenging, enchanting and engaging song, Newenhouse and Becker repeatedly adding their so-subtle shifts to a never-ending single-chord barrage.
“And man has become too much man,” they warn. “Not enough animal”. These the only few words deemed necessary in way of any explanation.
It is reminiscent of early Bowie, of, “Width Of A Circle”: dark and foreboding and full of weird and wonderful, bizarre and disturbing soundscapes that twist and turn without any care of forewarning, and that evolve and revolve continually, a mesmerising journey continuing through guitar and drum and cascading sonic tones. Manley, Newenhouse and Becker breaking free of all confines and warring for attention.
Space Voyage Mission and Worm Gear parallel one another, compliment and complement each other, bursting out from those original jam sessions, very much alive and with a very strong pulse. They each churn with a hypnotic repetition and twist through deceptive simplicity to rise and fall and rise again in dizzying full-speed gallops.
The third and final track “Specificity (Or What Have You)”, drastically contrasts its predecessors: it dares to be almost pop orientated, whilst still fully retaining all of the energy of that that has roared upwards and onwards before it, and its dystopian message of hyper intelligence surpassing the human mind is delivered almost light-heartedly, yet still very earnestly as it continues to forever delve further and further into this unchartered territory that lays just beyond.
“Everything in space and time/Is all at once, it’s all a lie”.
Soft Opening was recorded and mixed at El Studio in San Francisco and is available from 29th January.