Atomic Skunk turns music into Echoes CD of the Month Gold with Alchemy.
Obvious jokes about the name aside, Rich Brodsky, recording as Atomic Skunk, has with each successive album been developing his own voice, one that merges influences from The Grateful Dead to The Orb, into his own sound and he’s finally reached maturity on his new CD, Alchemy.
Atomic Skunk’s compositions are built out of seemingly random sounds, some from nature, some from places undefined. These become the sonic clay that Brodsky molds into his compositions. On “Rhino,” an abstracted forest murmurs and chirps while metallic percussion burbles to the surface of algae-covered pools. Eventually a groove enters, a little ominous, like a descent into the Amazonian canyons of the film Aguirre. Gamelan metallophones, glitch effects and a slowly assertive bass line propel the piece into its slowly-resolving arc.
On his last album, Portals, Atomic Skunk cut a beautiful cover of The Grateful Dead’s “China Doll”. “Equinox” seems almost like an extension of that track as Brodsky pulls his hands away from the computer keyboard and strums a plaintive guitar refrain. It’s a nice contrast to the more hypnotic, eastern inflected central melody played on a sampled violin.
Atomic Skunk’s music has a definite connection to the exotica of Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village.” Only now, instead of a band making jungle noises, Brodsky pulls those atmospheres from the libraries of freesound.org. And Atomic Skunk is working in a more free-form world of sound design where Balinese Gamelan can mix with Middle eastern percussion and none of it sounds like it originally appeared in either of those traditions. Instead, Atomic Skunk orchestrates his own culture, a global village of the imagination. Gamelan instruments figure on many tracks, especially “Lotusmud” where they’re played in a cyclical figure that sounds so innocent next to the more frightening sounds and percussive thuds that surround it.
Brodsky’s not afraid to cut loose into more dynamic terrain including the forceful, sawtoothed, phased and harmonized buzzsaw that dives across “Sunwheel” like an avenging angel. That sound returns on “Ghosts and Angels” the most melodically haunting track with the buzzsaw arcing over an array of metallic percussion hocketing across the stereo spectrum.
Atomic Skunk’s Alchemy concludes like every piece begins, in ambience. Only on the final track, there’s no build or arc. There’s no groove or melodic hook to pull you out. The ambience continues for 24 minutes on “Temple of Stars,” a deep interior space journey full of twinkling bells, groaning monks, evanescent synth pads and horror film sound effects of a creaky spaceship. Don’t put this track on at night when you’re alone.
This dark ending belies the colorful journey that came before it. Rich Brodsky has made an album that invites you in, then sends you slowly spinning through his surreal world. Alchemy is the Echoes CD of the Month for August.
John Diliberto © ((( echoes )))