Cosmic Americana. That’s what Chris Forsyth terms his music, with its roots as deep in American blues and rock n’ roll as much as they are in the cosmic psychedelia of European space explorers and the entrancing epics of Mike Oldfield.
Citing diverse influences such as the Grateful Dead, Brian Eno and Television, Chris creates four pieces, all parts of the grand suite which takes the title of the album (apparently named after a legendary derelict (and now vanished) structure in New Jersey). Each piece is built on, initially, a single guitar riff, before it expands outwards with multiple layers, not just from Chris, but also from Mike Pride on drums and percussion, from Peter Kerlin on bass, and from Shawn Hansen on organ, piano and keyboards. Part 1 begins with a loping guitar rhythm that slowly builds, looping around itself in mesmerizing helixes. As droning keyboards along with driving bass and percussion enter the scene, they let Chris cut loose to freak out on his guitar, a style that finds a mid-point somewhere between the raw emotional wail of the blues and the far out and trippy soundscapes of psychedelic rock. Things get downright weird towards the end with a calliope of twisted sonics whirling around in a haze of smoke and mirrors before the music gently segues into Part 2.
Part 2 has the hypnotic pulse of electronic music, without actually being electronic music. Think a drier, dustier, grittier and more slowly throbbing variation on Manuel Göttsching’s Echo Waves from Inventions for Electric Guitar and you start to get the idea. Chris’s guitar playing can get way out there, but he peppers it with delicious and original hooks, so it never gets lost in the haze. Combined with the rhythmic pulsations of the other instruments, it keeps drawing you in and in on its spiral journey.
After the nearly 22-minutes that comprise Parts 1 and 2, Part 3 slows things down a little, with a mellow, melodically evocative guitar pattern that sidesteps the driving rhythms for a dreamier excursion, perhaps this time into the nostalgic and mysterious past of the title structure. But it builds slowly, ever so slowly into a deeply acidic jam, with Chris’s echoed guitar going for both edgy shrieking and extreme twang, letting us down finally into the distorted and hazy soundscape of Part 4. Here Chris and his compatriots go nearly ambient, but the guitarist continues to throw in the spellbinding hooks he is a master of, to always keep it interesting, right to the very end.
Solar Motel is like the landscape reflected in a desert mirage. It digs deep to find the soul of America, but then presents it as if seen through a kaleidoscope. As much balanced as it is delirious, Solar Motel is a ballpark hotdog topped with ambrosia, a feast for lovers of cosmically inclined yet down to earth instrumental, psychedelic music.
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Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald