Written by: Dave Cantrell
While it’s not exactly accurate to say that the style of music dubbed by Gram Parsons as ‘cosmic American music’ could only have originated in the sun-besotted, hippie verdant borderlands of Southern California – Parsons, after all, borrowed often from the Tennessean vaults, and reluctant cosmic grandfather John Fahey spent only enough time in the area to complete his masters in folklore at UCLA – it is nonetheless difficult to conceive it emerging from any other region. Something about the manic starry-eyed energies of an uncontainably sprawling metropolis butting up against the mystical, relatively barren stretches of the Joshua Treed lunar landscapes upon which it slowly encroaches more or less ensured that some bewitching sound would eventually flow out of that shared, inevitably symbiotic faultline.
From its birth in the mid-Byrdsian pleistocene, cosmic Americana, as it would surely be called now, has lured in a broad swath of musical acts, some unlikely – the Gun Club – some to be expected – Los Lobos, say – most in a shimmering middle ground where the signifiers are both overt and oblique. Anthony Lacques’ Stoney Spring, like the band he helped found I See Hawks in LA, belongs in that more amorphous latter group.
On third album The Natural Sweetness of Cream, just released on Western Seeds Records, the band travel vast expanses in a singular, unitary arc, pulling in along the way meditative acoustica with a skewed-sideways narrative (quietly lysergic opener “I Think I Am a Rasta”), surreal cross-cultural mindfuckery (“Life in the Western States” wherein a British-accented pisstake jeremiad of sorts courtesy one Wade Truitt is recited against some sweet Cooderesque picking), instances of – respectful – Native American influences woven into otherwise indie-folkrock outings (“Kindersound,” which also beats with a bit of a Beefheart; the sweeping, ruminative “Music is Like Exercise for Words”), and the curious amalgam that can only be called avant-light jazz (closing cut “Black Vermissage, one of several tracks enhanced by the spry simpatico addition of the Brendan Eder Ensemble). And, veritably – not to mention literally – that’s just the half of it.
Without exception the songs on Natural Sweetness display an exquisitely loose tightness, proving in their way that that’s not the oxymoron it may first seem but instead a kind of stylistic harmony that threads together disparates as easily as tying one’s shoes, all of it with an intuitive wit that defies easy categorization (check “Rhodes Scholar Figures It Out, an instrumental that swings and trips in – I kid you not – sunny Brubeckian knots). While it may indeed be grounded historically in West Coast pop experimentalism, the music on offer here generally slips free of even those roots, often via sly existential lyrical contortions that match their craft and bent-but-impeccable logic the structures they inhabit (“Revisiting the Past” is an especially vivid example, ripe, rife, elliptical and mystical, it’s a tour-de-force that overwhelms with flagrant subtleties).
So, yeah, here we are again, confronted with a massively accomplished record on a relatively miniscule label, throwing into further question the legitimacy of the editorial hierarchy that dominates the digital clickboards. But to hell with it. Do what The Natural Sweetness of Cream does, defy the algorithmic overlords and buy the album here.