Complekt: Culmination of a Trilogy
by Benjamin Malkin
The somnambulist sounds of Landing are the perfect complement to the haze of no sleep. Their watery worlds transport you to a dream taking place during waking life. Life is exhausting there's no doubt about it, and Landing have arrived to sooth your universe with aural bliss outs that transport you to the next plane. Somnambulate Rock if you will.
The Connecticut based 4-piece have been developing their own singular oscillating, vibrating language for close to two decades now. Perfecting and crystallizing its essence into the shimmering sounds of the neon forest dawn, or what the band likes to refer to as 'tryyyps.' Turning on, tuning in, not radically different than the sounds they were exploring ten years ago at, say, Brainwashed-fest, Terrastock, or performing at Windy & Carl's wedding, yet somehow finer now, honing in and perfecting what makes Landing.
"I think for us it's more about altered states; creating an environment where everything feels different. Where you can do some stuff that makes time kind of stretch out. None of us are religious but we're all very interested in taking drugs without drugs. That's the music we make," Aaron Snow, guitarist, synth player, and co-singer for Landing says outside Thrones & Watches, on Wythe Ave. in Williamsburg Brooklyn on a crisp October evening.
What attracts Landing to the soft sleepy strange is "the tension. It's like being in a room where the music is almost to quiet," Aaron extrapolates. "I love that feeling of tension and forcing people into that tension and doing things like, we're gonna play this A for five minutes and you're gonna have to deal with it... I almost feel like that's a little more punk rock than punk rock is."
On their new album Complekt (out November 25th, 2016 on These Are Not Records), the sound worlds found there are somnambulant, beautiful, gorgeous and gentle, like swinging on vines through the rain forest, the colors so vibrant and oozing with moisture, they seem to be pumping blood right in front of you. From narcoleptic, dark beauty to floating in space in the outer realms, drone to dream pop, shoegaze to ambient rock, this wafty place of revelation is heavy on the eyelids in the most pleasing, dream-like way. Every song, song to song, is super strong with not a dud in the bunch. Complekt's concision cuts away the fat from its last two long form masterpiece releases. Nothing seems superfluous in this psychedelic universe, having dove deeper into the ocean and discovered a multi-colored vibrant garden down deep in the waters past where most venture to go.
With so many phenomenal albums under their belt (literally twenty nine since 1999 on labels as diverse as Geographic North, Bada Bing, K Records, Strange Attractors, & Music Fellowship), it's surprising to see a band getting better almost twenty years into their career but that is indeed what's happened to Landing. The culmination of the two albums released prior to it, the Body Diffuser EP and Third Sight, Complekt completes a brilliant trilogy. This article is not about the history of Landing, but rather this trilogy. There's too much of that to go into here so we're going to hone in on what to our ears is the apotheosis (or cherry on top) of their epic journey thus far.
The Body Diffuser EP was a 100 copy limited edition tape run and digital release. Danish label (and eco vinyl specialists) El Paraiso wanted to put out the Body Diffuser EP but the tapes were already made so Landing suggested they make a new album for them. That became Third Sight, which arguably was even better than Body Diffuser. Third Sight, released earlier this year, was a universally acclaimed milestone, seeing the band stretch out and take flight.
"(With) Third Sight, the whole idea was to spread out and make... do you remember Darla's Bliss Out series? [We] wanted to make a record like the Bliss Out, the Fuxa Bliss Out and Transient Waves Bliss Out all that stuff is like huge for me," Aaron continues.
For those of you unfamiliar with the record label and distributor Darla's Bliss Out series, in Darla's own words:
In 1996 the Darla Records Bliss Out series was created as a venue for uniquely qualified artists who work with more ambience, melody & mood than most to have the opportunity to step off their career path and showcase their epic musical Om.
And so on Third Sight, which for me is the Landing album, that's what they did. They took it out there, man. There are only three songs on the digital album (four on the vinyl), two of which approach the fifteen minute mark and one of which approaches the ten minute mark (I'll get into describing the highlights momentarily below, in the top ten).
All the while, throughout both these releases, Landing were working on Complekt, a word that sounds german but is made up (perhaps a nod to krautrocks take it out there). It took a long time to complete Complekt. It started two and a half years ago. "We don't like really necessary rehearse and go into a studio and bang out a record in a week. It's usually sort of... I'll have this bedroom recording that sounds kind of cool, (thinking) maybe this is a Landing song. A mixture of traditional band type stuff with studio experimentation," states Aaron.
On Complekt , Landing distill these various pieces down to their bare essentials, trippy but concise, taking only the best parts of these improvisations, compositions, longer jams and recordings. Where on Third Sight and Body Diffuser, they let it all hang out, on Complekt, they only show their best moments. Third Sight and Body Diffuser allow you to delve into Landing's world in the same way the Bliss Out Series did, i.e. taking it out there. By contrast, most of the songs on Complekt are around the four minute mark, though many rise out of these longer pieces like a phoenix from the flame.
Everybody loves a top ten so let's get to it. This admittedly wholly subjective top ten is solely based on songs from this trilogy the past two years: The Body Diffuser EP, Third Sight and Complekt. Side note: it's very difficult to describe music in words which is why I believe so many music writers allude to other bands . Like Chinese characters that refer to things they're supposed to represent almost as pictures, a band's DNA often refers to other bands . It's not lazy: it's just reflections that are more accurate than adjectives that don't say that much. Plus one of the great joys of reading music articles is discovering new bands you may not know through other bands. Therefore below, there are band references thrown in heavily, but this is because this is more accurate than sleepy adjectives.
1. “Grow” - Lost in the soft neon forest, the first three minutes, almost a Cluster intro crossed with the glowing guitars of Windy & Carl: strange synth and guitar explorations floating on waves of shimmering ambience; then it crosses into a rearranged version of “Slighted Tones” (off the Body Diffuser EP), adding percussion and vocals to what was already a magnificent piece of music, making it even more gorgeous. Like Spacement 3, who would rearrange and improve and re-release tracks, this is the perfected version. The only song on Complekt to reach ten minutes, this journey perfectly encapsulates everything I love about Landing, taking me back to the harbor and those moments in the suburbs lost in nature, The Cure and R.E.M. crossed with space rock and no chorus. Gentle and gorgeous, I want to stay here forever; an oasis in the haze of insanity.
2. ”Delusion Sound” - This is the cool narcolepsy late night haze. This song puts you in the zone. As if Spacemen 3 and The Lost Boys' mind melded, the drone of the 3 and the groove of the vampire, a heavier groove than Spacemen 3 ever achieved. Aaron sings from the other side but it's the rhythm section of Daron Gardner on bass and John Miller on drums that carry the groove. The guitar shuttering in and out like light in the rear view mirror, cruising late at night through the bad part of town. Jim Jarmusch, eat your heart out. Like your unconscious calling you up on the phone late at night, telling it like it is.
3. ”Weft” - Often my favorite tracks are the instrumentals and this is Landing's Can moment. Their tribal jam, reminding me of aliens preparing for battle or to cook a meal. It's just got that 'we're preparing for a great adventure' feel, like we're about to embark on a great journey.
4. ”Morning Sun” – Well, here's a freaking epic dawn song if ever there was one. Literally, an ambient buildup for the first eight of its almost fifteen minutes. This song is Landing at its psychedelic best. More spacious than Flying Saucer Attack, but with that drifting to it. Really, this is Landing at their most unique. Adrienne Snow's vocal an instant classic. If the Breakfast Club came out today, this should be the end credits music.
5. ”Thither” - Again, two minutes of drifting drowsy glowing guitars before it falls into the sleepy state of a sad slow dance, and when it does, Adrienne comes in heavy. Echoes of their own song “Clouds II” (found later on Complekt), but sort of superior. It takes its time, relaxed, and yearning. No chorus (vs “Clouds II”), which works to its favor. It is not needed. This song is a place, and that place is sadness saying goodbye with glimmers of hope.
6. ”Complekt” - If Landing have a bad-ass rocker this is it. Their Swervedriver. Their shoegaze battle cry. This is the mustang flying down I-95 late at night. Runrunrun.
7. ”Slighted Tones” - The eight minute wholly krautrock, pure ambient version ala Harmonia's “Ahoi!” This version is pure bliss. Grow gets the nod but solely depending on the mood you're in. Sometimes “Slighted Tones” is the place you need.
8. ”Light” - This is the song that ushers in Complekt (the first song on the album) and is that of the mystical pedals and synths. It takes two minutes of a soft quiet build to Adrienne's gentle vocal but the melody is so killer and the guitars so effervescent that, like a warm breeze flowing in off the harbor, they're as welcome as light.
9. ”Body Diffuser” - Five minutes of looking out across the canyon-build-up but oh, what a build-up! The sun rising before the dawn, and then when it's finally out, five minutes in, the rhythm section takes over. Pounding running drums, but it's actually the bass in this song, lagging behind but so dramatic when it lays out the changes, the drums pushing the beat: the guitars and keys are all UFO-s landing, but the bass is what causes the tension and the drama: this is UFO rock. This is where you're running in the dream from you-know-not-what
10. ”Clouds II” - Hard to get away from Low when you pound out the eighth notes slow. Still, lazy in a spiritual way: ultimate lazy sounds gorgeous, beautiful, and floating away.
From Slighted Tones to Morning Sun, the drones creating an otherworldly space is the place, truly memorable lackadaisical melodies like those remembered in a dream, not pop bash you over the head, but something distant and far away whispering in your ear. The slow pulse of the ambient rhythm section of Daron and John, Aaron on guitar and Adrienne on keys, another aspect that separates Complekt from Landing's past is Adrienne's vocals, which have come to the fore, singing the majority of songs here (she sings five and Aaron sings two). "It was a conscious thing" says Aaron.
"I enjoy singing but I also enjoy doing the studio stuff and writing guitar parts," says Aaron, "And, she plays synths live but, she's so busy... because her role has gotten a little smaller over the years that small role should be blown up [and] that should be her mostly singing." And this works out gorgeously. She writes all her own lyrics, and it just seems to make sense with this stage of the band. Her voice, detached, unaffected, space age, gentle, soft, and clear as a bell. By letting her take more of the lead vocal duties the band evolved into something more magical, less guy in his bedroom, more space rock / ambient rock, stronger when it needs to be but by magnifying Adrienne's voice in the band, the band itself shifted into something more beautiful.
Aaron and Adrienne have been married the lifespan of the band. For the second show they ever played, two people came, but those one of two people talked to Daron and they have basically been in the band ever since. Subsequently, these three members have been a band for almost two decades. These intimate relationships, unconsciously, are reflected in the music.
Along the way, there were important members who are no longer in Landing (Dick, Peter), but we're not going to dwell on that here. We're going to dive into who Landing are today. And since Daron, Aaron, and Adrienne have basically been together forever, the difference these past few albums is John. "Once we found John, it was like now we can be Landing again" says Aaron.
After two albums with electronic beats and more post-punk trying to find its footing, adding John on drums, guitar, & synth allowed Landing to return to the neon rain forest and become tribal again. "Once John was in, I sat down and thought what would I have done in 1999. I was trying to get into that headspace where it sounded a little vintage-y," says Aaron.
So you go back in time to that place that made you fall in love with music in the first place. But you approach it with all the wisdom you've acquired, exploring different realms since then.
Landing are not a pop band, and in fact they're at their best when they don't aspire to verse/chorus/verse songs at all. They're at their best when they just drift in space, so to speak. When the vocals come in four minutes into the song, and explore and roam, and the melodies are strong but there's no chorus to hit you over the head, it's very freeing. You can just search for beauty, quite separate than trying to stick in people's heads. Aaron states "I never wanted to be a rock star; [I] wanted to be Dave Pierce with the four track. I wanted to make weird cool stuff that I would like," and how freeing that is; away from the straitjacket of pop form, you're free to explore the outer realms, being blown away at (psych-fest) Terrastock is why Landing formed.
And although these songs explore the outer reaches of the musical realms, it's in a beautiful way, but not a commercial music way. There are bands that were influenced by the noise bands growing out of the late seventies and early eighties, and bands that were influenced by The Smiths and The Cure and R.E.M.. Landing, self-admittedly falls into the later category. Complekt often sounds like Harmonia crossed with the Cure.
"Harmonia is absolutley #1 (more than Neu)," says Aaron. "I always felt like Harmonia was more subtle than Neu ; Cluster is super-genius ; Kraftwerk and the road records with the flute all over it."
Yet it is this suburban pop beauty crossed with krautrock, shoegaze, and space rock that led Landing to the outer realms where their destiny lay. One step left of pop yet just as pretty. More so.
"My first step in that direction was hearing Lush and what they were doing with guitars. Once shoegaze petered out then, I got in to like Bardo Pond... I wanted to make people feel the way I felt when I heard... because my mind was slightly opened by shoegaze, and then it got really opened and then I got into krautrock and you go down the whole" rabbit hole.:
Landing is a band that has played with Bardo Pond, has played with Low... jeez, even played Windy & Carl's wedding. The only band to do so. Can you even imagine the honor? To play the drone masters wedding (Windy wanted “Can't Hide Forever”) .
See more about Landing on their homepage
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