Divide and Conquer
Review of von Humboldt CD
3.8 out of 5
By Jay Freeman
The Sea of Alexander von Humboldt is the second recording by Cloud Seeder made up of former members from Thin White Rope and Acme Rocket Quartet – Roger Kunkel (guitar), Steve Edberg (drums/soundtracks) and Dave Thompson on (bass/virtual Moog). Located in Davis, California, the band’s first CD was played in moderate heavy rotation on WFMU (NJ/NY), KFJC (San Francisco area) and others. The album was recorded, mixed and edited in a home studio, while mastering was done by Gary Hobish at A. Hammer Mastering, San Francisco. The group categorizes their latest work as “guitar driven instrumental with found sound ambience.” Similarities can be heard from the likes of Faust, The Books, Brian Eno, Swell Maps and Dick Dale. The songs were largely composed through improvisation. This second recording also features guitarist/violinist John Cypher and a cameo by keyboardist Max Hart.
“In that Shadow Part One” begins with a Moog keyboard, if I’m not mistaken, and author James Baldwin talking about something, if I’m also not mistaken. Rim shots on the snare jazz things up and then the group quickly transitions into a free-form ‘60s acid-psych jazz, rock grooviness – think of Iron Butterfly meets Steppenwolf meets The Who. A pretty wild jam, but enjoyable for all those into sonically driven “walls of sound.” Next is “Maria on the Moon” starts off a bit more subtle and reserved, and progresses slowly further in with David Gilmour-like guitars and a hushed beat on the drums. The band’s sound feels like floating on air as the ending drifts off quieter and quieter. “Caprinae” is an imaginative mix of electric violin, keyboards, free form drums, guitar and muted bass lines. Very improv here. The next track in “Laughing Gas” and it begins with a repeating bass melody, steady rhythm on the drums and a “spaghetti western” and/or ‘60s espionage movie styled guitar. This one had a good vibe to it overall. The band breaks things up midway with a laughing track and then ramp up a heavier sound on guitars and drums.
“C-Beams Glitter in the Dark” lays on the bass-y keyboards with extra synth effects reminding me of some of the work on Bowie’s Low album (which I think Eno had a hand in helping with). This one was pretty chill and ambient. “Buckminster” begins with a peppy little jazz intro and then transitions into a trippy, syrupy ride of psych and free form improv. “Infectious Agent” gets pretty heavy with bass and drums, and I liked this one a lot for that reason. The guitar weaves in and out with guitar solos and at times they sound like they were overdubbed – which was cool. “Headcharge” features a descriptive narration of what it’s like taking ‘street acid’ so yeah, the band gets really improvisational on this tune. “Acids and Basses” as you might think, may be another song about dropping acid – musically, I suppose for some, it may be or, was. Anyway, I enjoyed the band’s funky way of playing – the bass lines, drums, guitars – it all sounded like there were having a good time. There’s even some cowbell!
Next is “The Great Departure” a tune that has a movie soundtrack vibe, kind of one-part film noir, old school western and future dystopian. The highly imaginative style to “The Absence of Small Fish” reflects the abstract title very well, although there is a pretty groovy rhythm between bass and drums which lends the song a steadier beat throughout most of the song. Overall, pretty jammy and improv. The album ends with “In that Shadow Part Two” and it begins with a science fiction movie sound, and then a bit later more commentary by James Baldwin. A bold rock n’ roll style overall with plenty of organ like keys, guitar solos and a tight and funky rhythm section. This number was very enjoyable, and I liked the band’s choice to fade this one out, too.
All in all, The Sea of Alexander von Humboldt is a well-rehearsed and produced album and a likable one as well, for those into free form improv music with styles of psych, jazz and rock.
Jonathan Levitt reviews
von Humboldt CD at
China Music Police
Prepare yourself for a killer cosmic journey because Cloud Seeder who are comprised of Roger Kunkel, Dave Thompson and Steve Edberg, come out guns-a-blazing on their sophomore record. This is some bad ass psych rock that manages to coax the cobra from its basket on numerous moments throughout all 12-tracks. In that Shadow Part One opens the album with a blistering funky soul surfing jam that has so many cool things going on at the same time. Here the keyboards, the spoken sound sample, the organic fluidity of the playing, left me hoping it would go on forever. Maria on the Moon, is a beautiful moody piece that shows off Roger Kunkel’s trance inducing lyrical guitar playing. I love how the song spins down into a sonic haze as if we have lost the signal and are nearing interstellar space. Caprinae reminds this drug-addled listener of Pink Floyd’s, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Here Cloud Seeder have taken their production skills to the next level, making me believe it’s 1967 instead of 2020. Laughing Gas is the perfect song to play on some lonely stretch of New Mexico Highway situated between nothing and not much else. Here I am reminded of ex-Spacemen-3 blokes The Darkside and their song She Don’t Come. The playing is exceptional all around and once again for those who love psychedelic music the song stretches out into a menacing fury and never lets up (Vincent Price cackle and all). Buckminster begins with a jazzy riff and then morphs into a Bill Frisell/ Ginger Baker type jam, that is warped and unsettling and helps set the stage for the second half of the record.
Infectious Agent is a sinister pulsating jam that rips and snorts its way towards a fiery death. This is just simply too cool for school. 牛逼! Headcharge reminds me of a narcotic-informed jam from Torch of the Mystics by The Sun City Girls. Here Kunkel and crew let things unfurl over what feels like a long-lost soundtrack to a cult 60’s road movie. The Great Departure is a fascinating song that is cut up into several distinct sections that builds to a ferocious peak and then spins down into a unsettling off axis moan. The Absence of Small Fish bounces and chugs with a glorious sonic melange squeaking and squelching in the background. It’s as if we’ve tuned into some short wave radio broadcast that is only clear for a few minutes then gets inundated in a flood of white noise. This has transient random waves with announcements in spades. I love every little flourish, from the tiniest bleep and bloop to the wide open production to the exploratory nature of the music. The record closes with In that Shadow Part Two which provides a positive end to a record that dumps the listener out somewhere familiar yet unknown. Even though I loved the first album this record completely outshines that one on so many levels. The playing here is a joy to behold. The compositions are unique and filled with the unexpected which are nourishment for the body and soul. This is one of the finest musical statements I’ve heard this year.
This record needs to be released on vinyl because the vibe of the music, the artwork, the whole package are deserving of it.(Get a kickstarter going boys!–ED)
by Jonathan Levitt-5/5 stars- December 8, 2020