A pummeling into the past
Harking back to when noodling was king, San Francisco based Heron Oblivion’s self titled debut album is strong, channeling an early 1960s acid-rock style and giving it a bucolic baste. An alliance of seasoned musicians well versed in retro British folk, fuzzy psychotropic rock and cosmic noise, Heron Oblivion is Meg Baird on drums and vocals, Noel Von Harmonson and Charlie Saufley on divisive, dueling guitars and Ethan Miller on bass.
Drawn together in 2013, Heron Oblivion takes aspects of funeral folk, space rock and pastoral pop, infusing it with dashes of doom and the sorcerous soprano of Meg Baird to create a powerful debut that favors a focus on controlled chaos over structure. Three elements are at play in Heron Oblivion – the ethereal vocal approach of Baird, a streamlined rhythmic section of anchored bass and drums and a roaring rivalry of guitars that rupture and burst in a tapestry of distortion and rolling wah-wah solos.
Sub Pop bills Heron Oblivion as “Pastoral pummel. Listening to Heron Oblivion’s album feels like sitting in a lovely meadow in the shadow of a dam that’s gonna heave-ho’ any minute.” A blitz of seven tracks that boast sustained jamming, Heron Oblivion begins with “Beneath Fields,” a song that seems to beg a listen at night in Joshua Tree or while lying in a meadow pondering space dust and fragments of light. This is a song with a primal feel, setting Baird’s crystalline vocals alongside bursts of distorted, slow guitar that builds before paying off in the final few with a climactic evolution. “Beneath Fields” has a lifespan; it begins slow and beautiful, picks up into a crescendo and then spirals back modestly as though it hadn’t just been something else.
“Oriar” starts off wailing, coming in a hot parallel to Jefferson Airplane with hints of Grace Slick’s protest tone tinging Baird’s delivery. The contrast between the rich vocals and stratospheric guitar anchored simply with subtle percussion and bass is simple and awesome. Third track “Sudden Lament” is the first toe tapping ear worm, arriving opportunely to reign the listener back into the universe with sprawling and commanding elements of early experimental rock and roll. Being the shortest song on album, it seems as though “Sudden Lament” wants to get a blistering bang for its buck before diving off a cliff and letting ten-minute album nucleus “Rama” take over. “Rama” sounds submerged to start – slow, sly and cunning – with an inviting beat that takes over the spine and bobs your head for you. Somewhat loungey, one can almost see band standing on a decades-old stage in a dusty, burning spotlight. “Rama” is a sleeper freak-out that sustains itself over the ten minutes by alternating the contentious guitars with a subtle creep before an explosive catharsis sees the track through to an abrupt, dubious end.
“Faro” opens like a harbinger of doom before taking an industrial turn topped off with smoky speak-singing, a little mislaid in the overall effort but still in line with the unresolved audacity and boldness that’s seen throughout Heron Oblivion. “Seventeen Landscapes” is mystical and sprawling, climbing into the catalogue of tracks nicely as a potential evil twin to “Beneath Fields.” At this point the dynamic of imaginative, warring guitar interspersed with calming low key bursts and feather light vocals has been more than cemented, but remains fresh regardless.
Heron Oblivion ends with “Your Hollows,” striking a Mamas and the Papas chord before sliding back into Slick territory. The vocals are at their most haunting on this track, hitting high, sustained notes that float off into the ether in a radiant removal. As a debut effort, Heron Oblivion could be what Lonesome Crow was to the Scorpions – a stage setting effort that creates an atmosphere in which the band can follow any number of sonic qualities. “Your Hollows” ends in true closer fashion, with a slow fade of feedback that’s less a period and more of an ellipses – provoking eager anticipation of what might follow.