Masergy's "Fire Opal" Echoes May CD of the Month
by John Diliberto 4/26/2019
Massergy is an industrial-sounding performance name. In fact, there is an IT company that uses it. But this Massergy isn’t industrial. He’s Eric Jensen, a musician who has been making music for most of this century in a drone zone mode of sustained electronic textures. But with his new album on Spotted Peccary Music, the highly regarded ambient music label, Fire Opal, he opens up new sonic colors.
Those colors are partly due to the inspiration of the album: the psychedelic Velada ritual ceremonies of Mexico’s Mazatec Indians. Their region of Oaxaca is rife with natural psychoactive plants including psilocybin mushrooms and salvia leaves. In evoking the mind-expanding journeys these plants engender, it makes sense that Massergy would look back to some earlier psychedelic travelers, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. The references aren’t obvious. Massergy isn’t drawing from Dark Side of the Moon Floyd or post-Workingman Dead’s Dead and certainly not the pop or country side of either of those groups. He’s calling upon the freakouts of “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” or the extended, free-form jams of songs from Anthem of the Sun.
He’s doing it without overt rhythms, not even loops or sequences. He plays each note, whether it’s on a synthesizer or a sampled acoustic instrument. The title track is a pure spacescape excursion. Swelling synth pads, space noises, glissando guitar and organ undertones make this a piece that harkens back to Alpha Centauri-era Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd at their most rhythm-free.
“Cold White Smoke” is the epic track of the album beginning with an early Pink Floyd-style “Astronomy Domine” bassline with delayed guitar plucks and glockenspiel like synth cycles. Massergy sends you floating though a universe of sound until about halfway through its 17-minutes when it slips into an extended bed of sustained, oscillating string and vocal pads, with some more phase shifted guitar plucks that sound like they’re projected through water.
Massergy’s psychedelic trips aren’t rhythm-driven journeys through the abyss, but more pastoral and contemplative. “The Shepherdess” lays down a field of organ pads over which he plays arpeggiated, delayed guitar patterns that fade in and out over time like watching a river flow as flocks of birds pass by in spiral formations. The landscape moves into spacier, swirling synths and a phased guitar improvises gentle licks over a rambling bass pattern while synths turn into choirs. It’s a short piece, but it shifts several times, like a landscape turning inside a tesseract.
Not all of the songs are epic journeys. “Vinesong” is a three-and-a-half-minute rumination of plaintive and resonant acoustic guitar that echoes the Ry Cooder score to Paris, Texas. Notes ring out against sustained, swirling synth chords that sound like an organ in a ghost cathedral. The song builds to a slow, heavenly crescendo, a synth wave reaching toward the sky while the guitar rides its crest.
Although “La Extraña” (The Stranger) ends the album on a darker, more solemn and pensive note, a single cymbal strike sounding like a march to the gallows, most of Massergy’s Fire Opal is lighter and more idyllic than that. That’s partly because he recorded the album while sitting outside his home in Austin at the edge of a nature preserve. Sitting outdoors, wearing headphones, he plugged-in to his synths and the universe, playing this music to the forest wilds, creating the fluid meditations of Fire Opal.