Saturday, October 11, 2014
The the deeper you venture into the disorienting world Library music, the more you start to recognize particular names beginning to emerge from the vague mists of anonymity, pseudonymity, and mystery. Jean-Pierre Decerf is one such figure whose name begins to call attention to itself through repetition and excellence. Once his name is in your head as "one to look out for," his ouvre reveals a pattern of distinguished and sublime works. Some of the best music in the Library canon belongs to Decerf, but despite this, I confess I know very little of the man; but such is often the case with these subterranean wizards, these luminaries without awards, these marvelous librarians.
Today we'll have a look at some of Decerf's better LPs, starting with the delightful Light Flight/More and More, a Chicago 2000-label Library record credited to "Magical Ring." Somewhat uniquely, Light Flight/More and More seems to adopt a vague impression of a 1970's prog/psych album (hence the fake-ish band name). Decerf is credited as the composer of all the tracks here, with an additional collaborator or two (from a stable of six total) listed for each one as well. While it's not exactly a true psych concept album, it actually does pull off something of a cohesive effect, making it one of those special Library efforts that insists on its album-ness (rather than serving as a repository of grab-bag selections for you to sift and pick from), and truly rewards a straight-through listen. Of course, it helps that all the compositions have Decerf's distinctive stamp, and that they're almost uniformly excellent.
The album opens with the truly unique and odd "Light Flight", a very Decerf-y synthscape with a lumbering Pink Floyd bassline (straight from Meddle, really) and some basic gnarly electric guitar, all ruled over by a deep intoning voice, vampyrically delivering lines like "Yet, in such a brand new discovery, my mind aches... it lingers through the night... the earth and the mysteries of a brand new GALAXY." This befuddling vocal figure is backed up by Deep Purple-esque rock-harmonizing, painting vague apocalypticisms of "visions of white horses" and other such things (most of which I can't make out at all). It's a great, almost hilarious, opener; and perhaps not so surprisingly, it's actually a lot better and weirder than most of whatever it's pastiching or drawing its influences from. One of the greatest pleasures of Library music is the way it seems to present dimension-X versions of fairly conventional music idioms, weird dark mirrors of the familiar. "Light Flight" sounds like someone shot Uriah Heep through a wormhole and just recorded whatever doppelgangers came back out again.
The next track is "Fire Zone", a very krauty drum machine/ripping guitar duet with an unmistakable "movie music" vibe (quite similar to Irmin Schmidt's Filmmusik). "Sight on the Sea" follows; an absolute masterpiece in my opinion, one of those truly great Library miniatures that's so arresting, evocative, and compositionally immaculate that it's sort of like gazing into a painting (Caspar Friedrich's foggy seascapes come indelibly to mind). "Dreams in the Wind" continues the incredibly strong vein begun by "Sight on the Sea", reintroducing the guitar sound while maintaining the enigmatic foggy sound-vistas and aquatic synthesizer burbles. It doesn't stop there: "Spatial Feeling" is good until it reveals its true purpose of greatness and engages a heart-in-your-throat swelling finale that actually lasts the majority of its runtime (the build-and-repitition of this track reminds me a lot of Sun Araw's repetition-laden avant-psychscapes). "More and More" goes back to that Meddlesome bassline and repeats "Light Flight" as a wonderful instrumental. "No Words" is actually just so-so, sort of a pastoral whiff... but it sets the stage for one of the greatest single tracks in the whole history of Library.
"Black Safari" is a monster. A legend, a Jabberwock. Opening with a deeply artificial sounding collage of animal sounds (they may very well be real animal recordings, they just sound like warped plastic), a devastating drum&drum-machine rhythm skitters onto the scene and then takes off with mechanical determination, with you along for the ride. Synthesized bird/monkey squalls-and-calls surround you as organ and guitar take turns making the safari increasingly threatening and alien. This track is an unimaginable treasure, an aesthetic triumph for its genre. It's followed by "Wakemania", a very enjoyable bit of cinematic organ&guitar psych in manner highly reminiscent of Bo Hansson (though presumably intended as an homage to Rick Wakeman, who was rarely this straightforward or enjoyable, at least when working for himself). The whole deliriously enjoyable affair comes to an end with a bit of slightly soulful, entirely bizarre, sexy funk-psych in "Touch as Much." Here, the deep-voiced singer of the opener returns to growl in an Arthur Brown-meets-Isaac Hayes croon: "Touch... as much. As much as lust... Keep yourself loose... as loose as the wind."
This is one of the best there is. A Library masterpiece in no uncertain terms, full of psych, synth, exoticism, and all-around greatness.
MAGICAL RING (256)
That same year (1977), Decerf did another LP (in collaboration with Gérard Zajd, at least for all but two tracks) for the CAM label called Out of the Way. I don't know which came first (I've heard it was this one, in fact, but I can't be sure), but there's substantial overlap between the two. Out of the Way opens with "Sight on the Sea", followed by "Spatial Feeling", and also features "Dreams on the Wind" and, yes, "Black Safari." So the deck is stacked in its favor from the get-go, but it's not just another LP with those great tracks on it. It's essential in its own right, and every track is a winner. "Make Believe Advance" is another great slab of Hansson-esque psych (it would fit right in on his Lord of the Rings album); "Reaching Infinite" recycles the rhythm from "Black Safari" for a more sci-fi colored iteration and ends up sounding like unusually good video game music, but with a really unexpected, awesome surf guitar; "Funkadelic Again" is another superb drum-machine&psych guitar workout; "Fourth Level" is synth with a glaring spaceship gleam until it's interrupted, as though by Flash Gordon's more earthy Earth-ways, by a gritty guitar solo; and "On the Tenter" and "Static Man" are slightly unhinged little cityscapes, overcaffeinated slices of demented movie music. It's one of the absolute best LPs in the Library universe.
OUT OF THE WAY (320)
That very same year, Decerf released another album on CAM (this time with M. Baroty as his collaborator), entitled Publipot. It is an outrageous, dizzying delight in the same vein as the previous two, and no less great. Publipot is amazing.
The opening track, "Sea Spell", is another in Decerf's series of seaside sublimities – and one of the very best at that, innocent, nostalgic, and utterly mysterious, with its rolling waves, burbling sound effects, and building harpsichords. Every other track is a knockout (except perhaps the clownish "Musing on Children", which is still very good). I won't go over them all, but I'll single out a few: "Gladsome Moments" is another riff on the "Black Safari" structure, a little less distinguished than the other two but still great. "Phantasm in the Night" is pretty amazing; I don't want to seem unimaginative, but it actually really does sound the way Phantasm looks, at least at the film's best moments – sort of a baroque, other-dimensional horrorscape. "Brain Project", is about what you'd expect at this point, big synth washes, pastoral seaside evocations, and stubby little organ notes counterpointing long eerie ones. It's wonderful.
The closer is "Brazilian Ballad", one of my all-time favorite tracks, a transcendent piece where Decerf's compositional and aesthetic tendencies (at their best here) are brilliantly juxtaposed against a weird Brazilian rhythmic structure. The result is a surprisingly affecting, wistful composition full of beauty and nostalgia and deep undercurrents of melancholy.
Hey, what are your favorite Decerfs? I'm curious. Talk to me about it.
ALSO: I'd like to issue a profound thanks to the original rippers and uploaders and predecessors of any sort. Thank you.