One might be tempted to attribute the somewhat unpredictable rise of experimental synth music in Ohio to the almighty Internet, but there's a history of these strange collective shifts in consciousness that predates even the printing press. The theoretical akashic records-- a metaphorical and metaphysical archive of human kind's entire history of shared experience and spirit-- would likely reveal that anything is possible in any place. Odds are that Spectrum Spools label head and Emeralds member John Elliott found himself at the center of Cleveland's particularly fertile scene through a similarly subtle fate-- he didn't know it yet, but he needed to be there from the very beginning, before he even touched a synthesizer.
On Elliott's latest LP as Outer Space, Akashic Record (Events: 1986-1990), there's a similarly dwarfing sense of confronting destiny, like accidentally stumbling upon some life-altering truth. This spatially resourceful set of aggressive synth jams remains aesthetically coherent between its myriad settings-- deep space, inner earth, and even Elliott's humble hometown, Bay Village, Ohio-- as though, like the akashic records derived from Hindu philosophy, there is a cosmic timeline tying these very different ends to one circle. A love of freeform psychedelia may have birthed this heavily collaborative, jam-based collection (it features appearances from Philip Whiteside of Wavehead, Drew McDowall of Mirror Eye, Jeff Hatfield of Fragments, and engineering assistance from Andrew Veres), but there isn't a moment that feels arbitrary or lacks momentum. Developmental composition, melodic solos, and creative sound placement transform this from a one-off compilation of synth all-stars to a silent opera.
Outer Space's penchant for instinctual, tactile improvisation and long, ambient periods of expanding and contracting a single motif remains intact on Akashic Record, but Elliott makes a break from his scene's repetitive tendencies by weighing different ideas on the same scale. On some of his older cassettes, like Wrecked Math or Pyramids on Mars, it was easy to rank and file each piece under a few base categories within the span of a surface listen (i.e., the rhythmic arpeggiation, the trippy noise blast, the ambient zoner). At the time, seeing those lost sonic concepts get the attention they deserve was radical and exciting; but rather than rest on his laurels, Elliott has challenged himself to refine. The dynamic opener "Ellipse" patiently unveils its rising major chord vamp over a few quiet-as-space minutes of suspension, and it's as though, having traveled around the long edge of the ellipse, we're now rocketing forward past unseen asteroids, beautiful creatures, and an undiscovered spectrum of colors. In the song's suspenseful final third, we reach the dark side, a series of glassy, mobile bell tone shapes panning wildly around the stereo field.
Despite the great ability of "Ellipse" to marry the many faces of Elliott right out of the gate, there are tracks like centerpiece "The Fifth Column" that succeed by pushing the classic Outer Space sound far beyond older iterations (in this case, the aforementioned arpeggiation jam category). "The Fifth Column" has a particularly keen ear for rhythmic development, dropping from its disorienting 5/4 invitation to an acidic, relentless, 4/4 heartbeat at just the right time to make you feel as though you've fallen into a parallel dimension. Even though he's essentially planing the same melodic figure in different octaves, its up and down evolution-- with the textural shattered glass sounds of the higher-end-- give a sense of forward momentum. By the ending trails of "February 8th, 1990 - Ashland, Ohio," it becomes apparent that, while this record could have dropped at any time and from any place, it's a testament to John Elliott's growth as a player and ability as a leader right now. Though this is the self-described "appetite-whetter" for the other two Outer Space LPs this year, it stands on its own as his most enjoyable solo work yet.
Akashic Record (Events: 1986-1990) is out now on Spectrum Spools.