On his first solo album, Chilean composer and multi-instrumentalist Carlos Gonzales Lihn trades in the signature psych rock of his main band, Vago Sagrado, for a stripped-down palette of dream pop-infused shoegaze as a setting for Jack Kerouac’s jeweled transcendental poetry.
Listening to K is like watching a meteor shower in slow motion. It’s like sitting next to a crystal clear mountain stream broken by shiny black rocks, as Lihn extends his usual psychedelic guitar landslide to include a delicate, gossamer shoegaze miasma over which he, at times, intones Jack Kerouac’s third-eye opening poetry, cloaked in a dense veil of spacy echo reverb. It’s like Current 93 getting together with The Durutti Column to open a portal to some astral dimension and laying the whole thing to tape.
K is not entirely without precedent, but it’s still a startling and stunning evolution of Lihn’s sound. There are plenty of sprawling, visionary, trance-inducing psych grooves with his primary band, Vago Sagrado. While there’s plenty of room to show off shredding, soaring guitar on Sagrado’s longform jams, the collective nature and sheer juggernaut force of the three piece means Lihn has to lumber and pummel, turning like some mighty raptor in the mighty thermal updrafts of the trio’s psychedelic lava flow. He’s able to be far more deft and nimble when left to his own devices, with K darting and twirling like a school of silvered minnows as Lihn follows his muse.
This litheness means there’s plenty of variety among K‘s 35-minutes. It kicks off on a slightly more aggressive and intense note, with shards of white hot feedback, throbbing basslines, and a carbonite drum machine delivering some steely bad vibes, somewhere between the blank-eyed isolation of Blank Dogs, the gothy post-punk of Bauhaus, and harder-edged blue-collar shoegaze from bands like Loop on album opener “Resurrection’. Lihn immediately returns to more familiar territory with “Mexico City Blues,” with its one-person psych jam and drum machine meditation serving as the backdrop for Lihn’s first Kerouac invocation. “Temple Trees” is more pure shoegaze, an especially gorgeous elaboration on Slowdive’s “Souvlaki Space Station” spun out to almost 10 minutes, like blue neon stretched to the horizon. “How to Meditate” is the real pièce de résistance, though, with its gravity well of falling guitar arpeggios, bringing to mind The Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly at his most beautiful and least meandering, making an evocative backdrop for Lihn’s echoplex recitation of Kerouac’s ecstatic poetry.
K is a stunning achievement, an album of blissed-out beauty that gets better the more you listen. It’s also a good introduction to a particularly top-shelf strain of Chilean psych rock via Lihn’s other bands, Vago Sagrado, Los Tabanos Experience, and Goethe Spectrvm all of which are essential listens.
K is out now on limited edition smoke-colored vinyl and as a digital download from Atlanta’s Echodelick Records.