I’ve been increasingly interested in the Nashville-based label Centripetal Force and the label Cardinal Fuzz. This is why I was excited to discover the the record Trembling Under the Spectral Bodies by California-based Pure Land Stars.
The album was initially released in July 2022 as part of the Altered States series. This series was a joint collaboration between Mike Mannix of Centripetal Force and Dave Cambridge of Cardinal Fuzz. I haven’t dug into the other Altered States series records, but it’s something I plan on doing soon.
About Pure Land Stars
Most of the information I learned about Pure Land Stars came from the album’s page on Bandcamp. It says the band began as an exercise in improvisation with David Johnson, Anthony Taini, and Michael Dieter, all members of the band White Manna. The jam sessions they had together took on a life of their own, and they added saxophone players to the mix. Soon enough, they began to feel like an album was taking form.
The album has a definite krautrock feel, along with ominous tones reminiscent of Seventies Cold War era German groups. White Manna’s sound is mainly based on guitar, but Pure Land Stars relies more on synthesizers and drum machines. The White Manna members felt a new identity was warranted for this album because the sound differed from their usual fare. The vinyl edition of the album went up for sale on May 5th, and you can grab it on Bandcamp.
The album consists of 10 tracks, opening with the title track. It starts with a swell of distorted sound that doesn’t let up. The synthesizer experimentation is evident, with layers of sounds coming from all directions. The sci-fi feel of the tones reminded me somewhat of the excellent Beyond the Black Rainbow soundtrack by Sinoa Caves, the project of Black Mountain member Jeremy Schmidt. The song feels like dystopian film music, for sure.
Flotsam is up next and is exactly a minute shorter. The synthesizer sequencing is faster, giving off Space Invader vibes. Like the title track, it’s trippy in an intergalactic and cosmic way. Lavender Crowd continues the album and the electronic experimentation. There are touches of chiming bell noises and a more prominent drum machine that keeps a synthetic beat.
3rd Grace starts slower and softer. Waves of sound come rising and falling but never get too loud. Mountains are Mountains has the first guitar appearance on the record, an acoustic playing chords over the background synth. I found the freestyle guitar playing mesmerizing, heightened by the subtle electronic noises that enveloped the track in the background.
Infinite Downtrodden features the first saxophone appearance. The dissonant sound of the sax is combined with heavy electronic distortion that gives off the vibes of a jazz club at the end of the world. Chime the Kettle almost felt like a techno song, sounding different than the other songs. I would call this the most cyberpunk track on the entire record.
Jetsam features a high-pitched guitar wailing and an assortment of other sounds. The guitar gently weeps as George Harrison sang, but in this case, it’s the weeping of an alien force. Dr. Hilarious is a short track with a slightly sinister name, in my opinion. This one is highly atmospheric and sparse, conjuring images of the outer reaches of space.
The record closes with the longest piece, Eyes Like a Green Ceiling, which clocks in at more than eight minutes. By now, the listener will fully appreciate what Pure Land Stars has created, and this is the proper send-off. The slight sounds of the saxophone are stretched and drawn out, and the rest of the music has the darker tones of some of Pink Floyd’s most experimental instrumentals.
At the risk of hyperbole, I think Pure Land Stars has created something special with Trembling Under the Spectral Bodies. A lot of krautrock and ambient music can feel aimless and meandering. But with this record, I didn’t have as much of a problem keeping my attention on the music.
Krautrock fans will surely enjoy this one, but even those without much of an appreciation for this type of music may want to give it a shot. It’s engaging, and the songs are tightly composed. In most cases, the pieces don’t drag on too long, except for the last track.
After listening to this one, I plan on checking out White Manna to see what else these musicians are up to, along with the rest of the Altered States series. Also, be sure to follow the labels Cardinal Fuzz and Centripetal Force because they’re constantly releasing interesting stuff.
Check out Trembling Under the Spectral Bodies by Pure Land Stars on Bandcamp.
Support Centripetal Force by finding them on Bandcamp or social media (Instagram, Facebook).
Support Cardinal Fuzz by finding them on Bandcamp or here.
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