There are several ambitious works that attempt to play with the chance nature of our universe and the variety of attention spans that our brains can handle. Certain concepts delight in the fact that a beginning, a middle and an end might not actually make sense, any attempt of order might as well be decided randomly by the shuffle function.
Perhaps getting to the very heart of an artist’s intentions can only be clear when all the whittling away, tweaking and editing has presented the work in its most logical, clearest form. Perhaps 45 years after its original release and having been presented in several different ways previously (included a 2 CD set with 111 parts), finally Ned Lagin’s Seastones found itself sequenced and presented in what feels like its most satisfying 18 part 50 minute form. All these years later Seastones: Set 4 and 5, may well have been polished into geological gems.
Of course, as a back story goes, Seastones is near legendary as Lagin performed with the Grateful Dead on keyboards when the group played live. Seastones was built around this time (1970 -75) and draws on the close access Lagin had to the circle of friends and collaborators whom the ‘Dead kept.
Overall, this recording thankfully avoids any top-heavy super group expectation that might have been the problem when gathering such luminaires. In fact Seastones: Set 4 and 5 musicians include Ned Lagin (processed piano, clavichord, organ, prepared piano, electric piano, synthesizers), Jerry Garcia (processed electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, voice), Phil Lesh (processed electric bass), David Crosby (processed electric guitar and vocals), Grace Slick and David Freiberg (processed vocals), and Mickey Hart and Spencer Dryden (percussion). However, Lagin effectively throws all this into a sonic blender to pulverise everything down into little more than a rarefied kosmic stock cube for much of what is gathered here.
Built simply as a meditation on a series of pebbles on a beach, each paints its own little universe and touches its neighbour at precise intersections. 01 and 02 are little more than tracings of pure energy. 03 drifts in twisting pillows of distant voices. As the numeric ordered sequence starts to dissolve, 05 bounces into view with lush pulsing electronica. The brief 06, 13, 63, and 67 all map out weird knotted strata, confluences of shape and tone into oddly processed spheres. 70 and 79 delight in the sun picking out veins of iridescence. In fact, much of the first half of this collection hangs together in a barely registering pleasant dreaminess, gently blurring into an amorphous whole.
The second half, Side B, could easily have just been more of the same but immediately 56 is made of thicker and more transportive stuff. A full deep space movement dusted with voices and arcing stereo images. The brief warm glow of 58 has an odd VHS video quality that drifts on by. Suddenly though, things feel that the overall vibe has grown way more spacey in the ominous growls of 66 recede to expose the most concise but thickest primordial soup the album has outlined so far. Imagine Aoxomoxoa’s odd room clearing weirdness in What Becomes of the Baby as it forms the only sign of anything remotely human here. Even draped in a bizarre cloak of electronics, García’s lysergic delivery feel like a long strange trip.
The penultimate track 26 takes a huge 10-minute lifespan to plot the gradual metamorphosis of a thickly descending drone whilst the closing 57 grows upwards like a lens flaring dawn.
Previous versions of Seastones have always been enjoyable listens but maybe gets a little bogged down in its own conceptual framework. This version, however, hangs together like an album rather than a series of possibilities which probably elevates it to becoming the most satisfying manifestation. Seastones: Set 4 and 5 is a unique historic snapshot, and at last, sculpted into a fully optimised beguiling and transportive journey in sound.
Seastones: Set 4 and Set 5 is released by Important Records on August 29th, 2020, on limited edition transparent blue vinyl. This release is a Record Store Day exclusive and sold only via brick & mortar record stores.