Basking in Sun Araw's Sanctified Solar Dub Jams
Like his near namesake, jazz immortal Sun Ra, Sun Araw uses music as calligraphy to skywrite that SPACE IS THE PLACE. The Southern California guitarist/keyboardist (aka Cameron Stallones) has used the science of dub studio legerdemain to forge some of the most distinctive psychedelia of the last five years.
Formerly the guitarist for phenomenal Long Beach trance rockers Magic Lantern, Stallones has gone on to forge a brilliant solo career as Sun Araw. You can hear the seeds of Sun Araw's direction in the sprawling "Friendship" from Magic Lantern's 2009 album Platoon, as well as in "Flow Motion" by krautrock legends Can. Both use mantric repetition, snaking dub bass lines, and dense layers of guitar and keyboards to foster a holy, high state that leaves no negative side effects. Adding to the disorientation, Stallones sings in a delay-shrouded, awe-struck snarl, like Keith Richards in Black Ark Studios.
Besides Night Gallery, a 2011 collection of aqueous, midnight-blue jams cut with Portland psych-rockers Eternal Tapestry, and the forthcoming Icon Give Thank, recorded during a trip to Jamaica with Cali buddy M. Geddes Gengras and reggae legends the Congos, Sun Araw has been madly prolific since striking out on his own—and he's yet to release a dud.
Sun Araw's newish double album, Ancient Romans (Sun Ark/Drag City), is a sprawling masterpiece of dubbed-up psychedelia suffused in a sanctified heat haze. Much more keyboard-oriented and airier than his past works, Ancient Romans sounds like what minimalist composer Terry Riley (renowned for his influential 1964 masterpiece In C) might be doing now if he were in his 20s and enamored of the radical sonic shape-shifting of innovative dub producers King Tubby and Lee Perry. The music on these two white vinyl slabs sounds vast, deep, and oddly timeless. However, Stallones throws a wicked curveball at the end with "Impluvium," a pastoral house epic unlike anything in his oeuvre. It's kind of like when the Stones went "disco" with "Miss You," only on a much smaller scale.
A self-proclaimed Orthodox Christian, Stallones observed in an interview I conducted with him in 2008, "It's a cliché for psychedelic bands to use monastic or religious-mystic imagery in their music or art and easy to laugh at, but I think it's a cliché because good psychedelia, minimalism, and drone do express something truly spiritual and transportive, quieting certain aspects of the self and trying to reach and move others." Amen.