Crystals, totems, communes, singing a whole tour with an arrowhead in his mouth as a protest against war — there's a lot to recommend Nathan "Naybob" Shineywater as a first-class cornball hippie. Naybob and Rachael "Raybob" Hughes, his partner in Brightblack Morning Light, have dubbed their current tour the "Crystal Totem Turr," exhorting fans to bring a crystal to the show, and if you don't have a crystal, to go find one that speaks to you.
Even to a non-cynic, it sounds like a lot of posturing. Consider, for example, their artist's statement about how only people from the South can make authentic Southern music. Fair enough. But then, what's the deal with putting Native American imagery on their album cover? How authentic is that? I don't care about personal reinvention, but Shineywater may have a bit of a double standard there.
It all doesn't really matter though, because Brightblack Morning Light's music is so fucking awesome. Motion to Rejoin, the album just released by Matador that Naybob and Raybob are currently touring in support of, is every bit as brilliant as their debut, and all the crystallizing can easily be set aside as the slow-mo sepia tones churn and broil in your brain.
Central to the sound of Motion to Rejoin is Hughes' Fender Rhodes, droning simple patterns that evolve over a large span of time. With that as the basis, Shineywater's whispered voice drops in, tape-delayed into space, as a host of other instruments — from trombone to Native American flute to truly amazing gospel singers — hover in the fog just offshore.
Prior to the recording of the new album, Hughes and Shineywater relocated to the mountains of northern New Mexico, then moved to a nearby house with solar: four panels with nine golf-cart batteries. "We're totally off the grid, man! That's how we made the record," Hughes enthused cheerfully, betraying almost no hippie-ness as she talked about her love of rural life and nature, instead of crystals and love-ins. "That had a huge influence on our approach to the record, because what was outside dictated what was going on. When the clouds come, or the snow, you have to regiment your time, you have to power down. It controls you."
Even when the duo moved from Alabama to California, they made a point of living rurally, basing themselves in Arcata while Shineywater organized a music gathering called Quiet Quiet in Big Sur for a few years. The jump to New Mexico seemed to only further their connection to nature. "The desert life is so subtle, it's spooky! Air and wind," Hughes said. "The closer you get to it, the more it gives."
Despite the trancelike, repetitive, and mysterious nature of their music, Shineywater said he doesn't meditate. Hughes said there is a more elemental reason for their style. "Part of that is I'm probably not the most coordinated player!" she said with a laugh. "The music has this steadiness, but it's also this time and place. Time really is different out here. In a way, the time out here makes you meditate whether you think you are or not, and just not going to town makes you be in a different space. Not being in a manned vehicle? That's crazy! When I start driving again, I'm on the highway, holy shit! I'm doing forty, and it feels so fast!"
If there's anything certain about Brightblack Morning Light, it's that there is nothing else like it out there. What other indie band incorporates gospel, while at the same time being steadfastly psychedelic? What band is steadfastly psychedelic without sounding like it's retro? Despite any hippie trappings, Motion to Rejoin doesn't sound an ounce rehashed. (When asked if they might play some crazy willow groves or something on this tour, Hughes laughed hard: "Me and Naybob really, really love subwoofers!")
Here's the real paradox: imagine in your mind a crystal healing devotee. Now imagine the music they listen to. Now imagine them at the Starry Plough or at Cafe du Nord heavily blunted and swaying to the slow grooves of Brightblack Morning Light. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure this is the most amazing crystal healing music I've ever heard.
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