I first met Lou Rogai sometime around the turn of the century at a basement show in Scranton, PA. I don’t quite remember why I was there. It was probably just because I saw a flier hanging up somewhere, and I was desperate to find some like-minded musical souls in such a small town. It’s important to keep in mind that this was a time before social media bound us all up in its tendrils, and making connections with others about matters such as art and music was not as easy then; especially in an area as unwieldy as this particular and peculiar corner Northeastern Pennsylvania which I still call home. I recall that evening he played a wonderfully spare acoustic set that was head and shoulders above most of the other local stuff I had encountered up to that point. After the show we chatted, and I traded him one of my hopefully amateurish cassette demos for one of his CD’s. Credited to Lou, the EP was titled Empty Throne. I recall the music being a shimmering and dusty mix of Springsteen era Nebraska mixed with the influences of his then indie folk contemporaries.
We periodically kept in touch, and when I next heard from Lou, things had changed. He was no longer a solo artist. The nom de plum he was operating under now was Lewis & Clarke and the sounds he was creating had expanded, and so had the personnel. Things were in widescreen now; the expeditionary party had been formed. Over the ensuing years, Lou and I ended up working together on a U.S. release of the group’s debut album Bare Bones and Branches before we both moved in to other things. People to this day still ask me about their cover of Jandek’s “Nancy Sings,” that the group cut for a tribute album to the enigmatic Texan for my label back in 2005.
But time as they say, does indeed march on. I suppose I’m thinking about those early days for a few reasons, mainly because for the first time since that tentative (and now very scarce) early EP was released almost twenty years back that Lou Rogai is releasing a new record Cathedral under his own name again. The other reason is because his latest work is very concerned with time and memory. Bubbling underneath the album’s shimmering surfaces of ambient, folk, and neoclassical textures, lies the albums’ central mediation on how we relate to our past, and find refuge in places both physical and temporal. I imagine that if you listened to Lou’s first EP followed back to back with his latest offering, it would create the same kind of cognitive dissonance that would occur if you watched the first episode of Mad Men and then went directly to the series finale.
Cathedral makes it pretty obvious this is man who has been on a journey both artistic and personal. On the album’s three-movement 17 minute piece, Rogai strips away the confines of song structure, submerging himself in the slipstream, so to speak. While the the music featured on the second side entitled Music From Essere Amato spins like an elegant collision between Morricone and the Rachel’s. It’s funny how a lot of the time, the most vital work an artist produces occurs when they ditch the roadmap, and drive towards the unknown darkness on the edge of town. That’s definitely what’s happening here, and for those listeners with open mind; it’s certainly a trip worth taking.
Order the album via Veriditas Recordings.
Time Flies is the latest excursion from Ben Rosenbach’s one-man electronic post-rock project Our Alarm Clock. Now a Dad in his thirties, he spent most of his formative musical years playing in playing in Christian rock bands. His latest is a collection on which the worship rock alumni takes us through a secular and mostly wordless song cycle filled with deep pockets of ambient, pop, and post-rock; all of which are all filtered through his spiritually honed inner lens.
It’s an odd juxtaposition to have a set of songs be so polished, yet feel so personal. While listening, you sometimes feel like he invited you over to audition some of the songs he cooked up in his home studio the night before or while his kid was taking a nap. The album ebbs and flows in intensity, and moods oftentimes within the same track. Album highlight “A Sealed Up Secret Wish” starts with minimal backwards-tracked guitars, and slowly builds in intensity until it has morphed into something resembling Godspeed You! Black Emperor, if you could imagine them dressed in their Sunday best, and sporting fresh haircuts. While on vocal tracks such as “Pictures,” the artist sounds like he’s trying his damndest to work out his existential crises, and unresolved feelings in what sounds like real time.
Time Flies is an album that seems to work best, when Rosenbach allows the listener to glimpse a little more of the man behind the machine, such as on album closer, “Sunrise” which finds him looking up, still seeking the answers, and inviting us to do the same. While not every track or experiment presented here always works, there’s absolutely no doubt that there’s a real guy at the heart of it trying to get to the bottom of it all through his music. The world around us would probably be a better place, if more us cast our eyes skyward every once in a while and followed suit.
Buy the album direct from the artist.
In a pawn shop circa 1974, Edward Larry Gordon made a fateful decision. Following a clear and present inner guidance from deep within, he traded in his guitar for an autoharp. From there, he embarked on a quest for musical enlightenment, and never looked back. Taking on the name Laraaji, he would begin the building of a massive body of work comprised of his own unique ambient New Age stylings. One of the most well known stops on his journey was a collaboration with Brian Eno that resulted in the album Ambient 3: Day of Radiance which was released in 1980. The meeting between the two artists seemed the result of cosmic will, as it was due to Eno catching the artist busking in Washington Square Park.
The self-proclaimed Celestial Musician though has plenty more to offer for those intrepid inner space explorers who choose to dive deeper into his work. Thanks to the folks at the Telephone Explosion label and in conjunction their new imprint Morning Trip, we’re getting a reissue of his 1986 album Celestial Realms. Originally released a cassette, it is a collaborative effort between Laraaji and Lyghte (a.k.a. Jonathan Goldman) which consists of two side long explorations into deep inner space. Lyghte provides a foundation of low sustained guitar and crystalline ambient synth drones, while Laraaji sails above the foundations providing otherworldly sounding bell tones and zither work. One might make the mistake of turning this album into a passive listening experience. However to do so would be missing out on all that’s being offered here. As one contemporary critic was keen to point out, this isn’t background music for dishwashing. If you’re lucky, some active listening of Celestial Realms might just result in the shifting of some brain waves at the very least, and possibly even provide a bit of inner healing. If you think you’re ready to hop on board, then prepare yourself to beam up now.
Order the album via Telephone Explosion.