Astral Collapse is the most recent of a spate of releases documenting large portions of the music and sounds of Angus MacLise, known primarily for his work with Tony Conrad, LaMonte Young and the nascent Velvet Underground. Though he's generally associated with drumming of one sort or another, this disc includes more voice, organ and synthesizer as well as the use and manipulation of tapes. It's something, perhaps necessarily, of a grab-bag affair and the listener's reaction may well have much to do with the degree of prior affinity (or lack of same) to his music, but it's also worthy of the attention of newcomers. The first track finds MacLise intoning words from a Tibetan ritual poem over tapes of what also appear to be Tibetan sources (one can make out bells and low, growling horns). His delivery, however, is overbearing in that mystically earnest, white guy, 70s kind of way that tends to evoke an embarrassed grin.
"6th Face of the Angel", which follows, is the highlight of the disc. A lengthy, hypnotic piece for organ (played by MacLise's wife, Hatty) and tape delays, it generates a dense, churning mass of sound that rewards multiple listenings with ever-evolving levels of detail. Some of the loops take on eerily vocal characteristics, others quavering in and out of the mix like dopplered car engines; an impressive performance. "Beelzebub" features the only live percussion heard here: bongos. They are crudely, almost brutally recorded, reverberating over a prepared tape, the work taking on a malevolent aspect befitting its title, somewhat reminiscent of Sun Ra's percussion/electronics extravaganzas. That Blount-y aura extends to the following tracks, the first a freely undulating duo for multiple instruments including autoharp and cembalum [sic]. MacLise then unleashes a fairly wild and vampiric ARP synthesizer for "Dracula", once again evoking the sort of space organ explosions Ra created on, for instance, "Black Myth" from "It's Afterthe End of the World". MacLise holds up favorably in comparison though, with a sharply focused, unyielding attack that stands the test of time quite well. The disc closes with "Dawn Chorus", essentially a tape collage containing elements of Indian music, crowds and water sounds before MacLise's voice, rather unfortunately, intrudes, receding and reemerging between thunderstorms, massed sitars and waves of percussion. While "Astral Collapse" will certainly be a mandatory addition for MacLise's fans, it's also a reasonably varied sampler of his work and includes a gem or two making it worth anyone's while.
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