Ah, the 1990s, those halcyon anything-goes days of experimental rock fleshing out the gaps between pop, rock, alternative, punk, hip-hop, metal and well, practically anything you can think of. This was the era that gave us Les Claypool’s madcap Primus, or Mike Patton’s unquantifiable Faith No More – but it also gave us one of the latter’s earlier outings – that of Mr. Bungle. Alongside Patton, founding member Trevor Dunn took a garage death metal cover band to new heights of unconventionality and now, in 2021, he is back. Teaming up with ethno-jazz fanatic Jarvis Earnshaw, the Travis Duo as they call themselves craft some suitably trippy vibes on Hypnagogia, releasing on December 10th.
Lashings of sitar and jazz improvisations characterize this soundtrack to the lucid dreaming experience, making it at once a fluid, organic entity that you feel more than listen to but also, an overwhelming monolith of soundscaping that defies conventional interpretation. I honestly didn’t know easy listening could be so exhausting – and that in itself is an incredible feat.
Featuring Daniel Carter on wind instruments, “Hitherto” is almost a single; although the radio station that plays this is braver than most.
Whether you label Travis Duo as neo-jazz, ethno-fusion or any other highfaluting appellation, the obvious fact is that both members are musicians for musicians, not for the general populace. In that light, as a sad excuse for a musician myself, I feel ill-equipped to deal with the intellectual content under review, and have to limit my own opinions to simpler, more human ones.
The result is one of more searching, meandering compositions that favour mood over any pedestrian technicality-like structure. As a more affective consequence, the response is a pre-emotional one. Emotion barely has time to register before instinct has already taken hold and you find yourself barreling down a rabbit hole of kaleidoscope musical illusions painted in synaptic pulses on a canvas of starlight.
“Fair Weather Friend” adds Asian percussion to the mix, along with a suitably evocative ayahuasca-esque video in its self-styled “Ode to Ernie Washington.”
As well as Dunn and Earnshaw’s unique central contributions of contrabass/percussion and sitar/loops/vocals respectively to the album, a whole slew of big names collaborate on Hypnagogia, offering a veritable orchestra’s worth of instrumentation to the record. Standout mentions include Daniel Carter’s (Yoko Ono, Jaco Pastorius) flute and saxophone, Devin Brahja Waldman’s (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thurston Moore) saxophone and xylophones courtesy of Sean McCaul (Philip Glass Ensemble) – themselves a strange hybrid of styles, influences and generations. All blended together it may seem like incipient chaos, but there is still a clear central theme of higher consciousness – and of uncensored joy in the simple act of creation – that underpins the varied components at work.
Do not expect a simple record, representative of either member’s pop grounding: Hypnagogia is densely textured, probing and not for mainstream consumption. This is a love letter to psychedelia, experimentalism and self-expressionism and should be treated as such. This is a trip to an underground, hole-in-the-wall independent art gallery that will probably be closed within a year, not a grand day out at the Guggenheim: it’s an intensely personal, exploratory journey that should not be undertaken on a whim.
“FAQ” is a positively awful name for a track that asks more questions than it answers.
Hypnogogia Track Listing:
1. Sab Kuch Milega
3. Orchid Hoodwink
4. Fair Weather Friend
6. Uncanny Valley
7. Follie a Deux
8. Lolliping Theta Broom Horse
Run Time: 56:42
Release Date: December 10, 2021
Record Label: Independent