by Cliff Tuel
Following the success of last year's superb tribal space-music album FORGOTTEN GODS, Steve Roach, Jorge Reyes, and Suso Saiz together under the name Suspended Memories take their hallucinogenic soundscapes to new states of consciousness with their upcoming release EARTH ISLAND.
While FORGOTTEN GODS was a trance-inducing flight over moonlit deserts, radiating the memories of spirits long forgotten, EARTH ISLAND takes shelter in the subterranean caves of ancient lands, exploring the mysteries within. An occasional glimmer illuminates the ground, but only the music can find the way through total darkness, instinctually weaving a path down endless passages; passages that echo with the cries of the Earth; passages whose walls weep the tears of a vanquished race.
The album commences with "The Sky Opens", with Jorge Reyes' flute-like Mayan trumpet rupturing the silence. Steve Roach's ominous cacophony of synths bring a rumbling storm across the horizon. The trumpet cries in desperation as the clouds open up, then subsides as the storm passes.
Suso Saiz's delicate electric guitar is recognizable for the first time on the title track, "Earth Island", and is joined by a variety of percussion, primal chanting, droning synthesizers, and a hint of didgeridoo in the background. This is followed by "Curandero", a haunting echo of unintelligible voices and distant bird calls, melded with a lengthy percussion improvisation.
The almost uplifting rhythms of "Curandero" are contrasted with the dense and multi-layered moans of "Melting World", a dark soundscape devoid of Roach's distinct drum patterns. Reyes wards off the evil spirits with varying clay pot rhythms, as Roach and Saiz weave dark sonic textures around him.
"First Man (Watakame)" journies into the middle of a tribal ceremony. The dark intro is beautifully accompanied by Reyes' processed whistle flute, and as soon as the mood is set, Roach enters with a body-swaying hypnotic rhythm. A ratchet sound echoes from the walls, like a door opening to the depths of the underworld. A spirit voice is summoned from the beyond, haunting the air with his powerful chants.
A mysterious creature is awakened from its centuries-old slumber in "Places Inbetween". The piece begins with a revving engine-like sound, as the ferocious beast stirs from its sleep. Reyes gently chants a few lines, careful not to awaken him. A tense period of waiting is broken by a warbling bird, announcing the morning sun. The chanting resumes, this time louder and more assured. The creature moves, and to the stirring blow of a conch shell, lifts its eyelids and stares druggedly into space. The background percussion intensifies, and the creature's heart pounds double time, as he notices the men looming in front of him. Their nervous voices can be heard, but in this place inbetween sleep and consciousness, their words are garbled. As the morning sun shines down on the Earth, the creature awakens enough to glimpse the men retreating to safety.
"First Blessing" brings the album towards a conclusion with a cloud of very beautiful and cathartic synthesizer textures, peppered with a slow bass drum. Distant shakers and ghostly whispers enhance the feeling of harmony and peace. The feelings Roach evokes from his synths are reminiscent of "A Circular Ceremony" and "Magnificent Gallery" from his 1988 classic DREAMTIME RETURN, and together with Reyes' and Saiz's congruous performances, make this an exceptional piece.
The album concludes with "El Mitote", ending with a happier and more optimistic outlook than anything heard so far. After the stunning beauty and purity of the previous track, this seems a little out of place. As the footsteps of a circle dance carry the beat, Saiz concocts a strange melody on his guitar, bowing it like a fiddle. Add to this Reyes' singing an almost catchy melody, and the result is strikingly original. The piece does nothing, however, to bring the album to a close. Instead, it hints at a new beginning; a world where different cultures cross the oceans that isolate their islands, and live together on a single Earth Island.