BY THEIR name, they sound like they should be some great lost Moog-psych outfit from ’69, and weird and wonderful is definitely a touchstone for the Lightman Jarvis Ecstatic Band, be sure.
It’s the musical mind-melding of Yves Jarvis, whose album from last autumn, Sundry Rock Song Stock, was a really clever and rather ace melange of political teeth-baring, lighter-than-air folk songcraft and soulful melody, playful, oddball and the right amount of weird; and Romy Lightman, elsewhere part of sororal psych-folk explorers Tasseomancy.
A pair of restless creatives, always seeking to push further, this is actual real-life couple Yves and Romy’s first collaboration, and goes full bore into the new, melding lysergic folk, electronics and weird-assed rock with intelligence.
The album was recorded in the tranquil environment of the Tree Museum, a 200-acre outdoor art gallery in rural Ontario – thus following the creative setting for Yves’ Sundry Rock Song Stock, also recorded out in verdant surroundings. Banned was put together over the course of a fortnight in a free-flowing stream of improvisation; go wild in the country, indeed.
We’re told that it is actually about letting your hair down, being free, reclaiming a little of that late-Sixties countercultural optimism; 15 songs obliquely and collectively celebrating naturalism, openness, and sexual liberation.
“This album is a loose manifesto in our shared vision for a way of being,” says Romi. “It’s about our relationship and the dynamics in that. There’s an epicness to it and tension at times.
“We’ve been developing our collaborative process since spending our time together at the Tree Museum intermittently for the past two years. It’s like the ways particles collide. There’s an alchemical aspect to it with these base components slamming together.”
“It’s not only about a genre resonating and what came about musically – it’s about our love in collaboration with wind, trillium, plague days, moss and Precambrian rock.”
A meshing of seeking minds, then, a dual sonic manifesto; with a third actor on stage, a sleeping partner: the trees and the landscape.
Beyond leaving the city behind to live alone in the woods, the album title, Banned, also highlights an element of risk. Like late-Sixties’ counterculture musical Hair, Romy and Yves reject repression with a wider manifesto of naturalism, openness, and sexual liberation. The 15 songs collected wear their intimacy and liberation next to their skin.
“Ecstasy is perverse and sacred,” says Yves. “To display ecstatic joy like we do on this album is a vulnerable thing.
“First and foremost it’s about our desire for creative expression and the curiosity around that. It should be censored, but it won’t be.”
Quickly cooked up and captured out in the woods, often jammed out, the pair aim for an undiluted, even unmediated capturing of songs and emotions. They moved outside their comfort zones: Yves broke his custom for solitary creativity while Romy explored a looser and more instinctive way of composing and recording.
“There are archetypes associated with love and togetherness,” says Romi. “Then there’s a deeper way of being that sometimes isn’t documented. Our Ecstatic Band genuinely expresses that.”
It’s a strange world, once you part the fronds, find the clearing, but then the most interesting places and experiences, as you well know, lie off the beaten track. And the songs whip past like scurrying cloud; quickly, as they were brought into this world. Not many of them make the three-minute mark; quite a few clock in at less than two. Among that number you include the opener, “Olamim”, new psychedelia in barely a hundred seconds, treading lightly in Romi’s whisper and whimsical melody, found sound and layered texture. It’s got a really Seventies’ sounding, overdriven guitar and codas in a quick loop that sounds like it could’ve been on Magical Mystery Tour.
Which is a (partially) good touchstone, actually; that kind of doors of perception wide open, queasy acid flavour, which the following “Ancient Chain” runs with breathlessly, through a unsteady quiver of shifting melody, sudden plunges through keys, psych manipulation, wandering psych guitar, breathy duetted vocals. There’s a good, traditional album side’s worth of melodic ideas sailed through here, goo goo g’joob.
“Recurring Theme” is a pretty fragment of skipping ELO cello and harmonies trailing colours that dissolve behind as the song fragments into the steel drums glimmer of “Red Champa”, which scurries into Afrobeat-gospel-lofi, not waters I’ve ever charted before. Nice to have Yves and Romy as my guide.
“Trillium” is night-sweats weird, a spectral chant white-chalked around with a buzzily cyclical bass line, keeping those eerie whisperings at arm’s length; and we’re peaking, I think, as the nature-sex spirit summoning “Nymphea” brings the sound of the Tree Museum as a green bed for an Espers-like supernatural pastoralism, guitars violining. “Detached from reality” indeed, as the two sing, the song finding some inner rock god blues guitar break, and throwing it in amongst the chiming acoustic and other feral burrowings.
“Bone of a Hound” fair rattles forward, strong in its rhythmic bones, has that skeletal, fractured thing you get in some Pixies songs pre-Surfer Rosa, Romy and Yves whirling and buried with an urgent declaimed hook that clickety-clacks on like a train through the trippy mists of sound. It’s the album veering towards an indie smash, this one; cos it’s actually lovely for all its barenaked oddity; there’s pop in there.
… but not for so long, as “Ein Sof” orbits like early Gong, cooing from deep space twined in with comets of synth, an almost no-wave bass juddering and stumbling through, blinded, guitars juddering away somewhere nearby, chordally abstract. A free folk-space-jazz miniature. Whoah. “Lift My Heart” keeps the addled thing going; lurching with a cello and piercing guitar, Romy weaves some spell whose purpose may not yet become clear, some detached soul caress caged amongst a grinning-skulled Tim Burton animation psych band.
When the announcing single, “Elastic Band” came out in April, it made clear that this album wasn’t gonna make life easy for you but that it so was gonna be music to prick up jaded ears. Closest in spirit to Yves’ solo outings to date, ideas tumbling forth from both protagonists in fusion, vocals knotting together in a breathy, mushroomy delirium, fuzz guitars caressing, a bass line that mazes and cycles and clicks, seeming to touch on Prince, Devendra Banhart, Pierre Henry, kicking them all forward into a new place. And yep, the accompanying video is pretty trippy too, as you can see for yourself below.
“Becoming” thrums once more with steel drums and the wow and flutter of synths, and permits itself to be an Afro-ambient soundscape, a gorgeous and ramshackle thing of pings and tones with a sort of Japanese formalism; music for and from your secret glade. Which bright purity of seeming purpose is suddenly pulled from view as you trip over the shadowy vine of “Mother s Rope”, properly red-eyed, harmonically dissonant, again incantatory. And then we swing even further into abstraction, as “Slick Oil” absolutely unexpectedly presents as some stereo-panning radio cross-chatter updating of The Byrds’ “2-4-2 Foxtrot (Lear Jet Song)”, Yves free-associating different tales at a tongue-twirling recitational crack.
“Stomach Pit” is pretty much as seasick as it sounds, Yves punctuating a loose folk-funk impro with angry interjection, the song’s cohesion growing ever more post-Ornette and Sun Ra-ragged, half-life emissions of bass. And the, when you least expect it, positively blooms into soulful gospel-folk, handclaps and all – briefly. What?!? he said, admiringly.
The way “Stomach Pit” resolves, it may have been the perfect outro; but following their own path, it’s the “Tomb Of The Patriarchs” which gets the nod, and follows the former in reverse: a baroque, fevered chant frays and dissolves in overdriven guitar, the bass and percussion just about keeping it aloft.
Banned: Is it fun? Yep? Is it weird? Uhuh, sure thing. Is it cohesive? Nope, and that’s part of its spell; it whips past, alighting where it will as according to its whimsy, drawing nectar first here, then there, fluttering ever on in search of new pollens for its honey. Maybe, if this doesn’t haemhorrhage your head, conceive of Daevid Allen and Dave Brock jamming with Hot Buttered Soul-era Curtis Mayfield and Comus and Money Mark and Meg Baird among the leaf skeletons and the juice and scent of sap in a partly sampled faerie ring somewhere in the ground of Paisley Park, and you’re sorta getting the vibe.
Nailed on to be one of the weirdest ostensibly song-based listens you’ll encounter all year, it’s quietly charming, in both senses; it’ll freshen your senses for what songwriting might choose to do in the decades ahead, and is also pretty much guaranteed to be one of those wonderful outlier records that future musicians will cite. If everyone who heard this formed a band …
Lightman Jarvis Ecstatic Band’s Banned will be released by ANTI- digitally, on CD and on vinyl on June 25th; you can place your order here.