The music of Gary War [Greg Dalton] has all the signifiers of what journalist David Keenan dubbed “hypnagogic pop”: music refracted through the memory of a memory.
It’s a genre defined by woozy weirdness in the space between wakefulness and sleep. The imperfections of a damaged VHS tape rendered in lo-fi psychedelic hues and wrapped in a blanket of warped, multi-layered, decade-jumping nostalgia.
The style approaches perfection in the garage fuzz of Bounce Four from Dalton’s album New Raytheonport (2008), and in the triangular-headed creatures that wander out the surf in the Highspeed Drift video from Horribles Parade (2009). The only common element was a layer of tape-lag that tethered pop to the realm of the strange.
Gaz Forth arrives five years after the jittery, unsettling, but marginally cleaner Jared’s Lot of 2012. As a prolific collaborator, Dalton has been involved in several other projects in the intervening years. Among a complex discography that overlaps with those of many other artists, including Ariel Pink (Dalton is as an original member of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti), a highlight is the twisted long-form experiment Frame Slip (2016) with Sunburnt Hand of the Man’s Robert Thomas.
The group assembled for Gaz Forth brings together long-time collaborator Daniel Rineer with guest musicians Robert Cathart III (Pigeons), Jeremy Pisani (Red Favorite), Kris Thompson (Abunai, Trimble), Clementine Nixon (Purple Pilgrims), and John Moloney (Sunburned Hand of the Man). Their collective efforts result in something that sounds more like heady stew than a band.
It’s clear within 10 seconds of opener Windows and Walls that this Gary War album revisits conventional song structures that held earlier work together. The ghost of Arthur Lee’s Love twists around a radio-friendly melody. As always, the mix is top-heavy, and the curious flutey texture fades out in less than two minutes. What could have been beautifully crafted pop is fried, chopped, and drowned in ripples of gurgling electronics and synth reflections.
Despite the impression Gaz Forth is a more carefully produced work, it still bursts with the spontaneously weird, glorious twists and lysergic textures that made his early music so vital.
Inna Witness starts with guitar fingerpicking, transforms into the theme from a kid’s space show from the ‘70s, and erupts into a full-blown guitar solo complete with Eno-shaped squiggles. The sound moves rapidly through several twists and turns, and it’s difficult to do much else beyond surrendering to the exhilaration.
NSFL could be a ballad if there wasn’t so much debris floating in the space around it. An odd vocal bubble haunts the mid-ground before giving way to a weird rock-and-flute fragment that recalls Dutch band Focus. Watery fractals pooling at the end of Ex Real create one of the few moments of calm on the record. Just Has To, meanwhile, rolls in on a wall of late-sixties psych singles layered over each other. Tiny shards of harmonica and guitar gravitate around a driving groove.
The assured rhythm of G.S.T. diffuses into a coda revealing underlying complexity of what just passed. Saturated backwards-and-forwards layers lapse into pockets of silence.
What makes Gaz Forth such a trip is that each of its 11 tracks don’t just establish themselves and bounce around for a few minutes—everything keeps growing. Each part triggers another sequence like a game of sonic mousetrap; an effect or dynamic change underpinned by a grooving rhythmic frame.
Like so much music, the germ of an idea that might have started out as an acoustic guitar sketch with a few mumbled lyrics is fully realized by production. Dalton clearly understands where the line is, and like all the best psychedelic artists, embellishes musical parameters in a strange but logical way.
Pop is assuredly at the album’s heart, yet these 41 minutes are stuffed to bursting with a bizarre, sprawling ingredients. That it’s a disappointment when each track ends—and indeed, the album as a whole—is a glowing endorsement of this strategy.
Gaz Forth is out now on Feeding Tube Records.
Review originally appeared in Brown Noise Unit January 2018