wired for sound part 15: the return of sanity muffin, part four

July 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Galena – Through Veils (Sanity Muffin)

And last but not least, the solo project of Sanity Muffin head honcho Billy Sprague himself.  ‘Grave News For You’, the last Galena tape, was one of RFM’s albums of the year in 2010.  An emotional evocation of the process of dealing with grief, fittingly and touchingly dedicated to Billy’s late father.  If you didn’t get this can I politely suggest you pick up the lovely CD reissue on Darla?  Even if you did get the tape, the CD has an interestingly different feel and is worth having in its own right.

In person, and in our correspondence, Billy has the big, easy charm of the Californian dude – he is possibly the only person I know who can get away with using the word ‘stoked’ – but don’t let the demeanour fool you.  Here is a man attempting to address some very serious ideas: time, memory and the way that one distorts the other.  And when I say ‘memory’ I don’t mean the hazy, sun-soaked idyll imagined by, say, Boards of Canada.  Instead Galena presents us with the raw data of personal history, in all its complicated, uncomfortable tangle, and asks: “is that how it was?  Are you sure?”

Allow me to elaborate.  As someone who has been in and out of counselling for many years I am familiar with what the trade calls ‘door handle moments’.  This phrase refers to the client experiencing a jaw-dropping epiphany, or uncovering a revelatory connection, in the final few moments of a session.  It can feel like your rib cage has suddenly cracked open and that the therapist has reached in to give your feebly beating heart a good squeeze.  As you reel at the implications of your discovery you are being ushered out and breezily reminded of the date and time of your next appointment.  So off you go: numb, staring, wondering if the door that just opened in your head could (or should) ever be shut.  For me, this is the kind of primal stuff that Galena brings to mind.

Musically this tape is more guitar led than ‘Grave News…’ so the influences I suggested you could hear last time – early Cabaret Voltaire etc. –  are less evident, replaced by a surer voice.  Working on the assumption that I haven’t mixed up the two sides (label your tapes, man, goddammit!), the tape is structured in a sort of forty minute bell shape with the peak of the crescendo being the terrific tracks that end side one and begin side two.  They pull perceptions, feelings out of the dark: is that the shadow of favourite childhood doll cast on the bedroom wall?  Is it the shoulder of a former lover, turned away and trembling slightly?  How about the comfortingly revolting smell of your dog’s breath?  Maybe the aching guilt of it being too late to say ‘sorry’?

The sound palette – “synths, tapes, vox & baritone guitar” says the inlay card – is kept to a disciplined number of carefully chosen elements, all of which serve the purpose of the mix.  There are occasional vocals but they are unintelligible, sometimes near the surface, sometimes buried, like the name of that kid you spent a whole year sitting next to in school but now can’t quite remember…

A word about the cover.  This features a collage by Billy himself, in various shades of grey, emerging from a black ground.  It looks like a charcoal rubbing of a shale fossil of one of the strangest creatures of the Cambrian Explosion.  Or something from the unsettled dreams of a biologist who fell asleep flicking through a book of Cuvier‘s illustrations.  Suffice to say, it fits the mood.

I know Billy has been grooving on these reviews the last few days and enjoying me throwing out references to dinosaurs, ogres and spaceships in my descriptions.  However, I don’t need to reach for the Dungeonmaster’s Guide this time.  Galena’s music is about something more magical than magic and more terrifying than monsters: it is about knowing yourself and about dealing with what happens.  It is about how we process life.

To conclude: a few final points.  Billy tells me the title is a nod to his favourite Port Said album from the early 80’s as his friend Stefan Tischler from that band passed away from cancer whilst Billy was working on this tape.  Rest in peace Stefan.  I’m sure he would have appreciated the tribute.  Billy also tells me that this tape was put together for his recent European tour with Nadja where five of the tracks were recreated as part of his live set.  I am now grinding my teeth at the injustice of them not making it to the UK.  The practical upshot is that only a few of these tapes remain for sale.  Thus you should waste no time in clicking on buy here.

2 Comments »

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  1. lovely kind sir, a well washed window into the thoughts of someone listening back to music i’ve created is such a delight… a more true tale and comfortably loose than the cookie cutter stiff attempts of say Pitchfork for example… a “real review”… thanks so much for your attention to detail and playful analogies…
    re: my last album “Grave News For You”, yes it is still availible on CD and and and Vinyl… via Darla.com
    re: labeling of tape sides… yes, its cruel to not indicate… but it may be helpful to know all our tapes are wound and ready to play side A when you first get them…
    AND a little secret in knowing which is A or B when there are no labels indicating is when you look down on the top of the tape there is a number, it indicates how long the tape is… if it is right side up when your looking at it thats side A, if its upside down its side B… walah! no more guessing, every tape pretty much has this number printed on it’s top…
    thanks again amigo!!!!

    • My pleasure, comrade – thank you and your roster for the brain food. And thanks for alerting me to the secret code of the time stamp – I shall never confuse my As and Bs again! Rob x


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