“WARNING: All songs are extended jams,” the cd sleeve page of guitarist Thomas Simon‘s new album Vortex cautions the listener. Simon’s extensive body of work spans the worlds of film music as well as artsy rock. A track from the debut album by his band Musiciens Sans Frontieres was a winner at the 2011 Toronto Marijuana Music Awards, which explains a lot. But as digressive as Simon can be, his music can be amazingly catchy. This album is a clinic in implied melody: you will walk away humming tunes that Simon is only sort of playing, leaving plenty of space for your mind to fill in the missing notes. The photo on the cd case shows Simon’s guitar rig spread out around the spot on the floor where he’d be standing, the expanse of equipment including but not limited to reverb and distortion pedals, a wah, laptop and set of reissue Moog pedals. Simon’s endlessly circling loops and washes of textures filtering through the sonic picture are bolstered by Frank Saitta’s drums and Lior Shulman’s percussion plus drum samples from the Escola de Olodum and “various Salvadoran street jams.”
The first track, Haze, opens with an eerie chromatic riff that alludes to Simon’s work on his previous solo album Moncao (ranked among the ten best albums of 2010 at this blog’s predecessor). Lingering waves of guitar over a slowly pulsing drum loop and menacing fragments of lyrics complete the picture and set the scene for the rest of the album. The Truth sounds like Lee “Scratch” Perry doing art-rock, guitar and melodica conversing over a hypnotic clickety-clack rhythm. The version of the third track here, In the Middle of Nowhere, on the Moncao album has an echoey Syd Barrett menace; here, it’s considerably stripped down, in the same vein as Pink Floyd’s One of These Days. The funky, echoey Dub the Toad segues into Don’t Worry, which is closer to the anthemic rock of Musiciens Sans Frontieres.
Strange Love alternates between an echoey Bela Lugosi’s Dead ambience and a mechanical dancefloor thud, followed by the nebulous washes of the aptly titled Secret Winds of Sound. Altered Planet, the most cohesive track on the Moncao album, is reinvented here as a snarling, guitar-fueled trip-hop tune that grows more swirling and vertiginous. Dead Hero works a galloping Run Like Hell groove with layers and layers of lingering, sustained, ringing, echoing guitar: it’s both the most trance-inducing and hardest-rocking track here. The album ends with Condor Jam, growing gingerly from a muted drum loop to a growling, jangly swirl, up and down through a darkly biting theme. Fans of all the aforementioned bands as well as the artsy side of stoner rock will eat this up: spin this at night, alone on the floor, in the right mood, with headphones on and you’ll be in good position to figure out what it’s all about.