July of 2015 was a good time in my life. I had recently discovered Wilderun, I was getting my first real taste of the work which would become my profession and I was spreading my wings in the capital of my great1 nation. It concluded with a decent self-titled record by Sacri Monti, a Californian psychedelic rock band paying tribute to the 60s and 70s. The passage of 4 years has seen little new material until now, with the release of the rather excellently-entitled new album, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour (Waiting Room). Will it bode the beginning of a strong July of 2019?
Waiting Room is an evolution and not a revolution from the debut. It still reaches back into the experimental rock of the late 60s and early 70s in crafting a rich, retro feel. Straighter riffs are frequently submerged in layers of guitar jamming such that wafts of psychedelia obfuscate real hard rocking tendencies; the riffs are there but they’re more of a distant satellite than right before your face. The heavy use of the keyboard and organ strongly evokes King Crimson, particularly when the melotron is whipped out on the eponymous opener. Furthermore, warm, spacey synths are utilized on an interlude called “Gone from Grace.” Even the drumming, often secondary in guitar-based music, is very busy and fills out much space in the soundscape. The vocals (not attributed to any one band member) take the form of plaintive shouts and while the band hardly comprises the most technically gifted singers, they’re heartfelt enough. While all of this coalesces into a sound which is often quite dense, there’s an overarching jauntiness such that Waiting Room is more accessible than its predecessor.
Although guitar harmonization and recurring core melodies are clearly pre-arranged, the other instrumental elements often feel like they were recorded in an open-ended jam session. Although the core fusion of progressive rock, psychedelia and a general 70s aesthetic is inherently advantaged with me as a listener, that core sound is less able to hide behind my initial fuzzy feelings on repeated listens. Initial impact dwindles and I am not engaged throughout. For example, “Fear and Fire” is lengthy yet appropriately dynamic to theoretically sustain its 9-minute duration. However, this dynamism more accurately entails an abundance of meandering and a lack of real structure. I appreciate that an improvised approach may be the point but as the music wanders, my attention wanders all the more. Though central melodies may recur, it’s very much the case that they’re distributed periodically to try to focus the listener, without much real thought as to structure otherwise.
The exceptions prove this rule. “Starlight” and “Affirmation” are more focused tracks which fare better. “Starlight” features stronger guitar riffs and melodies to underpin the jamming which strengthens the sense of deliberateness and distances randomness. It also builds throughout which tracks a more satisfying course. “Affirmation” is led to a greater extent than elsewhere by the vocals; the melodies are clear in the verses and chorus which carries the track with a more obvious identity. The extended guitar solo around the middle pushes between the choruses, naturally leading from one to the next. In all, it feels like a track which was planned from front to back unlike much of the record.
Nonetheless, randomness in structure prevails. “Armistice” feels out of place; it uses a nifty counter-pointing guitar and organ passage but only runs for 2 minutes and consequently feels like an interlude. I can’t see why the cool passage it can legitimately boast wasn’t integrated into a fuller track. Similarly, the closer called “You Beautiful Demon” sounds like a B-side bonus track rather than a full part of the record. It’s the sole acoustic guitar-led track and opens with that lo-fi effect of having a band member counting in. It feels tacked on and doesn’t tonally fit with the rest of the record.
Waiting Room is simply, ultimately, not that memorable. My attention is not engaged throughout and I consequently struggle to recall particular melodies or strong passages on many tracks. My predisposition to this sort of music described above disproportionately informs early spins and later listens actually reveal that the resulting album is not very exciting. It could be described as a ‘shrinker,’ as compared with a ‘grower’ on account of this. The structural fluidity may be by design but the result is messy and lacks definition. It’s far from poor outright but is hardly a release to which I’ll be rushing to return.