Through the Smoke

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Richard Franecki's love of sounds psychedelic and droned-out continues on the latest Vocokesh album, dedicated to a deceased friend that he formed his first band with in the late '70s. It's one thing to have been doing music for decades but another to keep it clear that there's a reason to keep making music, and Franecki and bandmates John Helwig and Rusty, along with a few guests, demonstrate how life is still readily found in familiar tropes. Opening "Vibe #6," for instance, deftly balances spiraling solos and sudden, dramatic riffs and descending chords with moments of reflective beauty and ominous gong clashes, as effective a vision of East meets West using "rock" instruments as yet recorded. It's also one heck of an early Ash Ra Tempel tribute, and the power trio explorations of that era of the group have further echoes throughout Through the Smoke, as can also be heard on "Nothing Implied." A hint -- if a more active and noisy one -- of that earlier group's way around calmer compositions can be heard in "12 Monkeys," but it's more accurate to say the song is all Vocokesh's own, again showing that shifts between scrabbling, quick-paced noise and beats and a more meditative background is a standard, not an experiment. The title track continues that feeling even more, bells, whirs, synth tones, and more (and, of course, solos) conjuring up a vast open landscape while bass provides an ominous, looming counterpoint. There's also the implied humor of "Vocokesh Theme Song," which is actually one of the band's tightest numbers thanks to a snarling, instantly hummable riff, but there's enough reverb flutter and further layers in the mix to ensure this is hardly just power pop as such. Some great cover art and funny liner notes on Milwaukee complete the overall collection's impact.

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