Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Veda Rays Die Fast When Life Kills

Jim Stark and Jason Gates
The post-punk experimental band from Brooklyn that shook through the arthouse rock scene last year with Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays has undergone an evolution, easily heard across two recently released back-to-back EPs. The equally haunting but more subdued atmospheric work assembled represents two sides of a conceptual journey — a descent into the underworld and the ascent out of it, surviving but forever changed nonetheless.

"We considered making it a full length, but in the end we decided to break it up into two EPs for the conceptual differences," says Jim Stark (vocals, guitar). "Die Fast is a series of reflections, the equivalent of someone's life passing before their eyes. Life Kills represents what has been gleaned from the experience with a new found awareness."

"Be in the world, not of the world" becomes the traveler's mantra.

The evolution in sound began last year, with Stark and Jason Gates a.k.a. Jason Marcucci reconsidering how they approach recording and arranging instrumentation. The intent was to contain the atmospheric elements of the work, leaving more room for each element and then sonically evoking a greater sense of spaciousness.

"It might seem like an odd way to get there, considering our earlier work," said Stark. "But we were going for something just as full and just as dark as anything we have ever done in the past but in a different manner. We wanted everything to be heard this time around."

Part intentional and part happenstance, stripping away gratuitous layers of distorted guitars wasn't the only change. Stark and Gates are all that remain the previous four-piece band. Bassist Tyson Frawley dropped out to invest all of his energies into raising his son as a single dad. Guitarist Jimmy Jenkins moved to Colorado with his long-time partner.

Neither are completely out of the picture. Stark says that both may contribute later down the line in different ways, and Jenkins had contributed to Better The Devil and Cop Knock on Die Fast before the move. The absence is noticeable, but not for the fullness. Even live, Stark and Gates have compensated by adding sequences and electronic elements to retain their enveloping sound.

Likewise, the changes have opened up other ideas. One of them played out shortly after Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays was produced. The closing track on Life Kills on Time Is A Vise features Julee Cruise, the singer and actress most noted for recording the theme song to Twin Peaks.

Her involvement began after she and Gates met by chance through their mutual work as part of the New York studio scene. As Cruise became curious about the Veda Rays, Gates half-jokingly asked if she would contribute her voice to the track. She agreed without hesitation and Gates almost passed out.

"Cruise, even partially demystified, creates a surreal experience," says Stark. "She fit perfectly in that the song is about being bound to the physical machinations of the physical universe as we understand it. We're enslaved by the ego and organic desires. And this song is about your knowing your place in the scheme of things, allowing yourself to suffer the world instead of being attached to it."

How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?

The mind bending near mysticism isn't surprising from Stark. Along with his hypnotic and soaring vocals, he readily composes deeply contemplative songs with richly layered meanings, many of them straddling both physical and metaphysical planes of time, thought, and space.

Case in point. Whittled into Time Is A Vise is a Nikola Tesla's thought that everyone is automation, with geniuses being more efficient automatons. Stark then carries this forward with a twist of William S. Burroughs' awareness that "a paranoid is someone who understands a little bit of what is going on," while simultaneously giving nods to both the late Michael Hutchence of INXS and Neutral Milk Hotel.

It isn't the only one that plays like a puzzle box. At the top of the steps descending down, Better The Devil addresses the problem of self-styled indie hipster bands against the grain of original musicians. Untitled 93 contains a Carl Jung postulation interwoven with all the untitled tracks written by Elliot Smith. And even if he didn't hear it while recording the demo, Noble Beast now reminds Stark of Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete, originally written by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. The beat, a bull being led around by his nose, plays the part of tempter and redeemer. Those are only starters...

The Veda Rays Double Down With Two EPs At 8.0 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

I have to be honest. When I first heard Die Fast and Life Kills, it was difficult to listen without longing for the primal beastliness and urgency of their pervious outing. But as everyone settles into the ethereal qualities of both new EP sessions, there will be a general consensus that Stark and Gates have produced something as remarkable as it is unique.

Die Fast and Life Kills really belong together, and play perfectly alongside Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays. There are too many meanings, nods, and notes to even begin to list them all. You can find the 4-track Die Fast and 3-track Life Kills on iTunes. Die Fast and Life Kills are also available from Amazon. For upcoming shows in New York and elsewhere, visit the Veda Rays on Facebook.
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