It may sound like a strange way to start a review, but I’m often interested in the way I imagine something will sound before I’ve heard a note. What you know of the artist’s previous work and other information that may have influenced your mind is fundamental to whether you’re interested enough to hear it, or give it any time at all.
Music is, at its most basic form, an accompaniment to the sounds already present, or more often, an environment that masks what we would normally hear. An additional layer of sound that creates a new experience. Music becomes the soundtrack to a journey, creating a relaxing or motivational atmosphere, a pleasant backdrop, a trigger of memories, a space for ideas. It makes us dance, our hearts beat, and our brains whirr. It fills silence with sound.
Despite countless styles and flavors existing, the listener has to make a selection and choose to engage with a single piece music, one moment at a time. While this is something that we all do every day without thinking about it, Bodhi Cheetah’s Choice, the new album by Prana Crafter, feels like an album that’s super-enriched by taking additional stock of the apparent silence it grows from.
What makes this preparation all the more considered with this 42-minute passage of sound is that it feels like some form of ceremony. Perhaps even something that alludes to a spiritual or cosmic experience. You may well get out what you put in.
William Sol (who is Prana Crafter) has, over several albums, referenced many esoteric concepts through the names of his tracks. His album artwork grows from psychedelic underground comics and a host of musical influences from the late ’60 and early ’70s. It’s also clear he draws deeply on the rugged natural splendor of his home and his family life among the trees, trails, and peaks of Washington state.
Of course, as a listening experience, this is as much an internal as an external voyage though his environment. It seems impossible not to consider all these elements as you engage with Bodhi Cheetah’s Choice. The title itself frames the project. In various chats with Sol, he expanded on the name.
“Bodhi is awakened mind,” he explained. “The name of the album is a play on the word bodhicitta, which has several definitions, but basically means the energy of awakened mind or the energy that moves one towards enlightenment. So to say, ‘Bodhi Cheetah’ is wordplay.
“Now the real reason for the title has to do with the Grateful Dead and Owsley [Bear]. There’s an album called Bear’s Choice, a compilation of songs chosen by Bear, the great LSD chemist and soundman genius for the Dead. So, I titled it Bodhi Cheetah’s Choice as a nod to my love for the Dead, the psychedelic experience, and the idea that when you leave things up to spontaneity, in a sense, you are leaving it up to the energy to decide what to do, hence, Bodhicitta’s choice.”
The energy that the album is made from is pure homegrown improvisation. In some ways, the opening track Bodhi Cheetahs Boogie Blues is the most dynamic on the album — a scene- and mood-setter. The air is thick with a heavy punctuated guitar and tumbling keys that feel more like an incoming weather-front than music. The simple rippling of one note after another connects time like pine needles on the forest floor. It’s difficult not to be drawn into this unhurried, floating world. The episodic guitar changes its characteristics and you can imagine a neon Garcia lost in the moment, eyes closed, eye open for nine weird minutes… Even the wild guitar-thrash around six minutes in feels like it’s just introducing another part of the palette.
The more folky styling of Sol’s previous work seems to have been replaced with a strange, heady ambience. Blooming of the Third Ear outlines a strange clicking Morricone heatstroke groove before finding a cosmic picnic with Manuel Göttsching.
The near space of Eno and Lanois’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks orbits Holy Tempel of Flow before we are invaded with a cosmic multi-tracked jig.
The album begins to feel like a lava field, textures tumble and undulate. The edges between all these different elements marry beautifully. The Spanish-style infusion of Crystal Sky Wooden Cloud introduces yet another new element as, again, the album twists into the gongs, for second transporting me to Olivia Tremor Control’s Cubist Castle.
Sol is playing everything we hear, the sound patched together from acoustic and electric guitar, upright piano, organ, singing bowls, hand drumming, snapping, and mouth noises.
“I don’t read music, so it’s all just instinct and being in the moment. If you know all the technical rules of playing an instrument, I think that can get in the way of being creative and original, so I don’t study music at all or try to understand it in a traditional way. To me it’s magic, and I don’t feel the need to try to ‘master’ it, I really am just a conduit. That’s why I call the band ‘Prana Crafter’, I’m not a composer, I’m more like a little musical shaman who communicates with the music on its own terms and in real-time, and together we make a tapestry.”
There are so many sonic references here with the music. It’s littered with Six Organs, The Grateful Dead, and Pink Floyd, but it’s the mellow side of Ash Ra Tempel and Agitation Free that I feel Sol gets the nearest to. But of course, Bodhi Cheetah’s Choice is anything but a simple tracing of Sol’s record collection.
Old Growth Fortress is the most rock on the entire disc, but as always, seems to split in half, leading off into a sound-tracked bubble from animated film La Planète Sauvage. By comparison, Vajra Mountain is a beautiful diamond of a closer, a simple resonance guitar stomp seemingly allowing space for reality to slowly return.
If the album’s overall theme is that of awakening (or Bodhi), then each of its seven tracks explores the transition between two points. Improvisation and structure, noise and melody, light and dark. That might not seem that remarkable or different from millions of other albums. For me, though, as a listener, choosing to spend time plugged into Bodhi Cheetah’s Choice comes very highly recommended. It’s a remarkable, subtle, and illuminating experience that’s unlike much I’ve heard before. A unique space in sound.
Revised April 2019 – available on vinyl and cd for the first time, make love to the universe here
Review originally appeared in Brown Noise Unit January 2018