Chris Schlarb

Making the Saint

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Southern California producer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Schlarb took his always restless muse to places of blissful pop experimentalism with his Psychic Temple series. The first volume, released in 2010, was a sprawling collision of large-ensemble chamber pop and Schlarb's background in free jazz and improvisation. 2013's Psychic Temple II traded in on the long-form pieces of its predecessor for more direct pop productions, going so far as to include re-workings of lesser known songs by the Beach Boys and Frank Zappa. These albums were heavy on collaborators, intricate arrangements, and plenty of guest vocalists, all of which culminated in an incredibly dense finished product. The complexity and enormity of the Psychic Temple albums also make the contrast between them and Making the Saint all the more stark. Recorded in a remote cabin built during the mid- to late-19th century gold rush, Making the Saint is a hushed, insular affair consisting of sounds made solely with guitars, joined minimally by Schlarb's vocals on one track. It's a huge left turn from the ornate pop of the records directly before it, aiming for soft, thoughtful meditation and reflection rather than dense, often catchy jazz-pop hybrids. Two of the four pieces are built on droning loops, beginning with the 19-plus-minute title track, a lingering and tentative dance between Schlarb's pastoral leads and a static drone sounding more like a harmonium than anything made with a stringed instrument. A similar approach on "The Fear of Death Is the Birth of God" yields more interesting results, with a haunting, off-kilter riff looping underneath sustained and distorted guitar harmonies, eventually dissolving into staccato blips of Morse-code like ambient noises. "Great Receiver" is a short acoustic ballad with slight, buried vocals and the album ends with another acoustic sketch just shy of two minutes, the fully instrumental "My Foolish Heart." The album is refreshingly spare, especially in light of the lofty production work Schlarb got into previously. However, as nice as these low-key guitar wanderings are initially, the longer pieces drag on into aimlessness and never really reach for any resolution or greater narrative. In their protracted form, these two long pieces and their shorter acoustic counterparts feel more like the documentation of a getaway weekend jam session than they do a fully formed album.

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