Friday, 20 December 2013

Album Review:Laraaji – Two Sides of Laraaji

(All Saints Records)

After spending some time creating his own recordings Edward Larry Gordon, better known by his adopted name of Laraaji, was discovered by Brian Eno busking on the streets of New York playing his modified auto harp filtered through an electronic pick-up. He featured on the third of Eno's Ambient series, Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance making use of his modified harp and the zither, creating long-form spiritually informed pieces of music using his chosen instruments to communicate both rhythm and melody to conjure an otherworldly effect.

All Saints Records, who have released many of Laraaji's varied recordings, have collected two of his mid nineties albums Flow Goes The Universe and The Way Out Is the Way In on Two Sides of Laraaji presenting two distinctly different but compatible visions of the musician.

The first album Flow Goes The Universe creates a meditative experience, influenced by eastern spirituality, you could lose yourself in the sprawling sounds. Track titles like Deep Celestial and
Being Here let you know what you're in for. At twenty five minutes long, and lacking any tangible melody, there is little else you can do while taking in Being There other than shut your eyes and letting the treated instruments carry you away to their own world.

It isn't all abstract ambience though, with the field recording experiments on A Cave In England letting the sound of tumbling water rain down over soft heaven gazing strings. There's the astral gazing of Space Choir where masked vocals come to the fore over a low and pulsing drone.
Rhythmic constructions of Zither Dance add a momentum and textures than may well have inspired some of Animal Collectives more restrained moments. The album ends with Mbira Dance, with the inclusion of soulful upfront vocals make it a highlight as the voice falls in and out of a plucked Mbira rhythm.

The Way Out Is the Way In , a collaboration with Japanese dub reggae group Audio Active and takes the spiritual exploration to another place as the group lay down a bedding of dub bass lines driven along by hip hop beat and samples as Laraaji offers vocals that shift and warp as he delivers spiritual messages or requests that you 'laugh/ just laugh'. The whole effect is heavier, not suited to meditation, instead inspiring head nodding grooves as it weaves samples of Laraaji's work through the music.

The mid-nineties recording sounds of it's time with it's processed drum sounds showing their age and many of the tracks go on long enough to feel like unfocused jam sessions. It still has its moments, like the opening and closing tracks Still Laughter Mode, or the instrumental beats of How Time Flies sometimes reaching a trip-hop murkiness, other times reaching Flow Goes The Universe's ambience.

It seems Laraaji is better suited to letting his music speak for itself as The Way Out Is the Way In often drifts into cheesy synthesizer washes of new age cliche. Flow Goes The Universe is the easier album to recommend especially for those familiar with Ambient 3 for its moments of human interaction amongst the otherworldly aspirations, where he reaches for other states of mind with only a limited set of instruments at his disposal.

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