Universal Mind Decoder

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The title of Boston-based band Abunai!'s debut album is nicked from the Byrds, and this Universal Mind Decoder shares with that band an evocative mysticism that is delicate yet loses nothing in musical potency. Abunai! (a warning cry meaning "Look out!" commonly used in Japanese anime) directs its music less toward the pop end of the spectrum, however, and more toward a spacious, sweeping, and sound-intensive strain of psychedelia, full of phased vocals, spacy sound effects, guitar distortion, and tribal drumming. The music, amazingly enough, meshes melodic, drone-based space rock, P-Funk (particularly in the low end), pensive folk-rock, and shoegazer pop so that Universal Mind Decoder could be seen as a sort of Cliff's Notes to psychedelia from the past 30 years. But Abunai! doesn't rest on the laurels of a psychedelic past; it brings to its music something too often missing in psychedelia: a gentleness -- even subtlety -- that loses nothing in grandiose power. It is music capable of whisking you away and, in the same instant, disorienting you with its sense of foreboding. Everything that Abunai! plays, from Celtic folk to trippy hymns, takes on a slow-cooking, heated ambience complete with modal scales, expressive riffs, well-manicured gales of distortion, and heavy drumming that amounts to music that both takes you away in its gradually building momentum and weighs on your consciousness like something that you can't quite grasp but know is important. The album has its fair share of densely textured gems: "77 Gaza Strip" is a cosmic bit of slow-motion surf music that dispenses any sunny business and replaces it with oceanic depths of guitar, making it closer to an Eastern-influenced take on Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun" than Dick Dale, but more mystically driven. "Cosmo Gun" sounds like some wind-swept psychedelic expanse with rich, palpitating bass and vocals echoing out from a deep hole, and in songs such as "Inspiration," the loping, beautifully melancholy cover of Richard Thompson's "Cavalry Cross," and "Quiet Storm," with their hymn-like overtones, Abunai! make their sacred aspirations manifest in the most moving of ways. In general, Universal Mind Decoder seems like a cautious extension toward something spiritual, but something that is not -- perhaps cannot -- be identified or reached on a tangible level. As such, the music reaches a bit farther and lasts a bit longer than is necessary. Then again, that's the point of anything spiritual: making a human effort that never quite reaches transcendence but attempts it nonetheless.

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