Be warned: Chris Schlarb is not a rock musician; and his new offering, Psychic Temple, is not a rock album. It is 4 tracks and 33 minutes of something far less definite. Trumpet and guitar play heavily in the mix, forming melodies that float by like the tops of waves from a ferryboat view. The drums sound like they were set outside in a storm and the rain and wind tickled the cymbals and skins. A wordless vocal line weaves an ethereal gauze between them and countless layers fill the space or create it.
Quite simply, this record is beyond us. It’s music from the future. It’s grown weary of the constant repackaging and recycling of already passé musical genres. It’s bored with pop music structure and it’s intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus-outro litany. It’s something special.
The first track, “I Can Live Forever if I Slowly Die,” is filled with those magic chords that break your heart with their simple beauty. When the guitar first enters, it sounds like waking up from doing absolutely nothing for your whole life–now noticing how the wind sounds through the trees. The subtleties of the world are magnified through the lens of sounds throughout the album. It requires several listens to pick out the parts of the 29 musicians that assisted in the recording (including rock bassist Mike Watt, who undoubtedly lent his hand to the distorted and magnificent bass lines that close out the last song).
Had we been able to hear the recent Geminid meteor shower behind the clouds, it would sound similar to “White Dove in the Psychic Temple.” It’s a frantically jovial piece held down by big acoustic guitar chords. A rhythm exists but it’s tough to predict because of the long pauses between the rhythmic lines. The feeling here is one of a playful deity throwing light around the sky.
Despite these grandiose images, the record does have some traditional jazz trappings to it. Instrumentation is still jazz heavy with trumpets, guitar, bass, drums, and piano doing the majority of the work, with other voices adding color. The fourth track sounds a little like a trio of jazz soloists: trumpet, piano and bass. Of course, the biggest jazz-like feature is it’s inaccessibility. It’s the kind of music that babies probably get smarter to when they listen to it in utero. Music majors will probably lose their minds a little bit over this record. Everyone else will get bored when they can’t tap or sing along.
It could use a flashy ending to tie it all together, but overall this is a majestic offering from Schlarb. It screams for a high-quality vinyl release, so it’s wonderful Schlarb’s Kickstarter campaign to make that happen was successful. If you’re up for a challenge to your definition of good music and you are open to a subtle, yet powerful, emotional experience, pick this up.