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coverpic flag US - Oregon - Full Moon 225 - 01/05/15

Old Light
Ice Pharaoh
Old Light Records

I decided to check out Old Light's Ice Pharaoh when (fellow Portlander) Jason Lytle gave the band kudos. When checking out what musical terrain Old Light operate, their genre(s) pop up as: 'Wood, Metal, Electricity', and further it says: 'File under: Brutalist Rock, Gray Metal' (according to the band's Facebook page). Well. Hmmm. They are tagged 'rock metal psych' as well. One has put up this description: 'Rock and roll that sounds both old as the hills and fresh as a daisy' (Kevin Johnston, one of the Bandcamp.com staff). Ice Pharaoh is Old Light's latest album, following their debut full-length, The Dirty Future (released by Arena Rock Recording Co, 2010). Since then, a lot of recording has happened.

As their Facebook site states in the biographical part: 'Pretentious buttheads who think their personalities, identities, anything that falls outside the realm of their lofty art, is none of your business.' They are a bunch of jokers, it seems. Unpretentious, right? Right. Through 2013, Old Light completed a yearlong project. The band did this over-ambitious, musical experiment: They wrote, recorded (on a Tascam 8-track tape machine), and put out five full-length albums (on cassette, on their label Curly Cassettes)! The albums counted: No (released in January, 2013), Time (in April, 2013), Yes (June, 2013), Space (September, 2013), and Magic (October 2013). In addition, they put out Ocean Waves, a 10" vinyl EP (on Old Light Records) in June 2013. In January 2014, the band put out O.L.V. - Old Light Varations - that was a box set of the five full-length cassettes recorded and released last year, as a limited edition, collectible artefact. With all signal paths being 100% analog.

Ice Pharaoh sounds quite different to the The Dirty Future, which is more lighter and paler rock music. The twelve tracks on Ice Pharaoh creates a controlled madness, somewhat of the hard side of rock. Not hard as rock, but rough as 'hard rock', but with a sense of humour. Old Light has been described as a 'mad mixture, or blend of Electric Light Orchestra, Led Zeppelin and Ben Folds Five.' Well, they are not, but I can see the point. Even though Ice Pharaoh is something complete different, O.L.V. is said to be 'a document of what Old Light could create in the span of one year, unfettered by the time constraints or financial prohibitions of the mainstream record release cycle.' Ice Pharaoh is their late 60's/early 70s-ish (hard) rock project. Old Light are: Garth Klippert (vocals, guitar, keyboard, autoharp, percussion), Patrick Finn (bass), and Scott DeMay (guitars, keyboard, vocals, drums). On Ice Pharaoh, Todd Roper (vocals, drums, percussion) was a member of the band. There were some guests in the studio as well: the producer Steve Berlin (who added saxophones to a pair of tracks); Scott McPherson; Mike Coykendall (who's known as a solo artist, as well as he's been recording artists such as M Ward, Richmond Fontaine, Beth Orton, She & Him, Bright Eyes, and others); Tim Cohen (of Fresh & Onlys and Black Fiction, as well as a few more acts); Greg Olin (of Graves and Au Dunes); Sara Lund (of the legendary Kill Rock Stars band Unwound. She's also playing with Hungry Ghost and Corin Tucker Band). Hey, Lund has had drum-battles with Janet Weiss, of Sleater-Kinney fame (Weiss played alongside Corin Tucker in S-K). That was the facts. The music is pure fiction.

By listening to Ice Pharaoh I do get to like the band and their music, but I realise that I won't become their biggest fan. I am too deep into modern rock, I guess. Then again, I do like Old Light's concept and attitude, and their spirit. Like the band states: 'In the old days, bands would come to a producer with a stack of demos, and the producer would whip them into shape. Except in our case, we released the demos first.' Old Light recorded numerous songs and released the stuff (the band call them demos), and then they approached the Portland-based producer Steve Berlin [who had his prime time as a musician from the late 1970s during the 1980s, being a member of cool bands like The Flesh Eaters, Los Lobos, and The Blasters. Berlin has worked with a line of acts over the years: Faith No More, R.E.M., The Go-Go's, The Smithereens, The Replacements, Beat Farmers, Leo Kottke, Sheryl Crow, Rickie Lee Jones, Alec Ounsworth (from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), The Tragically Hip, The Dandy Warhols and several more], who took an interest and decided to work with the band. Berlin selected the songs, and Berlin and Klippert worked hard with the chosen songs. '...the original 8-track tapes were digitized (no cassette hiss this time!) and the songs were taken apart -- in some cases, performing major arrangement surgery; in others, just cranking them through some better signal path and hearing them shine.' The thinking, the philosophy, and the working process is cool, and some tracks shine. But I am afraid too few of the songs shimmer and sparkle, even though that the band's attitude is just the right thing.

Copyright © 2015 Håvard Oppøyen e-mail address

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