Chris Schlarb

Psychic Temple

For spending over 1000 hours working on it, for enlisting a ridiculously high-profile 29-member ensemble to produce it, and for as lofty a title as "Psychic Temple" might suggest for what's contained within these 33 minutes musical bliss, Psychic Temple is anything but huge.

It's tiny, even. Microscopic.

Its nuances are so delicate, so slight, sometimes it feels like the music isn't even there. Schlarb appears with his army of gentle giants as a whispy cloud, swallowing up your essence from all directions in a cool, refreshingly wet mist. Sometimes colors are smoothly smeared into one another, pastel tones of ambience coming from a broad spectrum of beautiful, harmonically aligned voices. Sometimes distinct lines and points of reference are there, the music appearing in a patchwork of complimentary tones pasted together in a broad mosaic.

I'm trying to figure out how many "ambient jazz" records I have in my collection... and Psychic Temple might be the first, officially, though the record also incorporates elements of folk, rock and Classicism as well. Each tune has a "head" within its design, a melody outlined with different voices played at the top, sometimes in the form of skeletal post-rock electric guitars from the composer himself, or sometimes confidently portruding from the pristine bell of Kris Tiner's trumpet. Soon after, instruments carry forth in fleeting improvisations over washy mixes of angelic voices, pitter-pattering cymbals and drums, strings, electronics, pedal-steel guitar and pianos.

Closer "White Dove in the Psychic Temple" stands tall as the album's immaculate centerpiece. Rising from a gorgeous symphonic chorus, methodically meandering strums of a guitar along with some nice TNT-styled drums that underly the composition, those talented musicians set to work colorizing with a beautiful refrain that follows with successive, tastefully intricate solos. This track moves from some beautiful trumpet (that calms my shakes from missing Rob Mazurek on Tortoise' last couple of albums), to piano, and finally a seriously sickeningly-sick electric bass performance (courtesy of the indubitable Mike Watt) before the album comes to a sadly abrupt close.

Schlarb's creation on the whole is simultaneously submissive and overwhelmingly confident. His ensemble here (which includes help from the likes of DM Stith, Juliana Barwick, and many others) acts with separate voices that have myopic vocabularies available, allowing Schlarb's ideas to flow forth in exceedingly complex, complete thoughts. These tracks are in conversation with each other, trading questions for answers in ways you'd expect, but are nonetheless surprising. A definite high-water mark for 2010's ambient-leaning releases (of which there were many, many great ones), Psychic Temple demands your attention to as great an extent as you'll be able to ignore it, let it wash over you and clear your mind. Perfect in so many situations (especially a rainy day), the one place this definitely belongs is spinning on your turn table.


Chris Schlarb Official Website

Asthmatic Kitty Records

p.s. We've reviewed this album a little bit prematurely, as it'll be released digitally by Asthmatic Kitty on Nov. 23rd. However, we felt it was important to sneak this one up in the cue a bit, as Schlarb is working on a Kickstarter program to fund this album's release on 180 gram vinyl in a gatefold package. Check out the video below, pull 10 smackers out'cher wallet and help me get this thing pressed, for the love of Pete. ...You DO love Pete, don't you?

November 15th, 2010