This Timeless Turning
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This Timeless Turning
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This colorful Seattle seven-piece tones down the wild psychedelia of 1993's A Return to the Inner Experience in favor of a more contemporary strain of art rock. Gordon Raphael's battery of synths leads the way, singer Anisa Romero ranges from folky ("These Old Bones") to ferocious ("Deep Sunless Sea"), and the band can crank it ("Scapegoat," "Stretched") when the mood hits. --Jeff Bateman
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Somewhat psychedelic and highly atmospheric, the rest of Sky Cries Mary's '94 release requires a long list of adjectives to do it any sort of justice, as it truly is a heavy broth of a mixture that can sound (in no particular order) explosively sustained, baroque, tribalistic, hypnotic, ethereal, evocative, wistful, and haunting. There is no exclusive constant that can be pointed to as a signature sound for this band, as one track can be driven by a sound derived from electronica ("Every Iceberg is Afire"), another by snippets of dialogue overlaying a ghostly, rippling wash of synthesizer ("Objects in the Mirror") another by a warm, fluidic, levitational chordal progression ("Walk of Nothingness",coupled with a dreamy vocal refrain) and the last I'll mention here, the refined, heavily ornate texture of "These Old Bones".
What's most striking about this CD is how easily these songs must have translated when played live and heavily amplified. In fact, they sound as if they were meant to be played live-and loudly-, and this essence just happened to be captured during the process of recording. I'm sorry that I never had the opportunity to watch them perform live. This is the third time I've replaced this CD since 1994, and it's still as intense now as it was when it was released 17 years ago. Definitely a keeper if you're a fan of psychedelic music.
During the middle 1990s, Sky Cries Mary were courted by numerous major labels despite sounding totally different from the mostly dreadful bands who shared their Seattle home. Naturally none of these labels could turn out a product capable of so much as denting the Billboard charts. Despite this, on ‘This Timeless Turning’, Sky Cries Mary strengthen their distinctive synthesis into a captivating combination of mystical power and sheer musical force that constitutes the musical analogy of water weathering down rocks. Whilst the basic ingredients of Sky Cries Mary’s sound remain from ‘A Return to the Inner Experience’, tribal rhythms gain a new prominence on ‘This Timeless Turning’.
Although tribal rhythms are often annoying and tuneless to the point of being unlistenable, drummer Ben Ireland and sampler Tom Robbins manages to completely avoid this pitfall and add power to an already aching sound, aided by producer Ian Caple who strengthens the oceanic waves of sound. Opener ‘Shipwrecked’ begins as a flute-heavy reprise of previous album’s standout ‘Gone’ before Anisa and Roderick produce a beautiful, soothing, antiphonal harmony that acts as a kind of introduction. With ‘Vuh’, Sky Cries Mary shows they mean passion with melodies much more intense than past masters like My Bloody Valentine and Band of Susans could manage, along with beautiful acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies that are extremely easy to ignore on casual listening. The bleak darkness of the lyrics (“look past the ocean/that hides a desert”/“past the ghost/that hide’s Hell’s treasure”) adds to the thunderous power of Ireland’s one-note rhythm in the loud part. On next track ‘Don’t Forget the Sky’, Anisa’s remarkable vocal talents in the chorus complement the soft verse rhythms to create a sense of “spiritual breakthrough in song” not seen since the first side of Hounds of Love.
With ‘These Old Bones’, the band turns the volume down considerably but retains all the beauty of Anisa’s passionate voice in a poetic melody reminiscent of Hugo Largo’s Mimi Goese, and after another reprise, this time at a much faster tempo, on ‘Stretched’ comes ‘Every Iceberg Is Afire’, often regarded as a commentary on global warming but nonetheless a work of extreme urgency, and the even more fiery and visceral ‘Scapegoat’, in which Anisa demonstrates the passion of love in the most unlikely manner. The intensity and tunefulness reaches Sky Cries Mary’s apex (which is saying something) on ninth track ‘Deep Sunless Sea’, which maintains a remarkably consistent crescendo over its seven minutes. The touching beauty of ‘Slow Down Time’ is not as loud but is exceedingly powerful even with its quite texture all along, and this is taken further in the more inaccessible ‘Four a.m.’ which possesses the nocturnal quality of its title.
All in all, ‘The Timeless Turning’ is one of the most overlooked, power, melodic, and mystical of all rock releases. The combination of Anisa Romero’s seamlessly melodic and powerful vocals, stark tribal rhythms and samples, and mysterious, eastern-inflected lyrics is one that was never and has never been duplicated. The label “space rock” commonly applied to the band is misleading because Sky Cries Mary’s music expresses not the emptiness outside our atmosphere but the dense depths deep under the sea and the romantic passion of intense love. The album cover, too, adds to the sense of timeless, unchanging mystery and beauty amidst extreme desolation.
Even among people who enjoy and love music - this album can be a hard sell - because it doesn't have the common pop elements that confine it to a specific genre - and that - rather than the abject failure of mainstream radio - is the reason for this band's relative anonymity. For instance, I've never convinced any of my friends this band is worth a listen. More difficult yet, there is no obvious "single" to get someone hooked.
But once you are hooked, that's all she wrote.
If you love everything from Cocteau Twins to the Stones' Goat Head Soup ... think that 2112 was a masterpiece ... enjoy anything from Projekt Records ... then you may love this album. But it is a love-it-or-hate-it band. Fabulously talented musically, fascinating sonically ... but doesn't conform to any specific genre or style - except awesome.
This album is a bit more palatable than "Return to the Inner Experience" for a starter album ... but you should definitely check out the new single "Small Town" which maintains much of the trademark Sky Cries Mary stylings, but in a much smaller, more easy-to-digest package.
Inner Experience/Timeless Turning ... they never make it into the "Top 10 Best albums of all time" list ... but Sky Cries Mary frequently does go into the "Top 10 bands I would need to hear if I was trapped on a desert island" list.