Album Review: Brad Laner – Micro-Awakenings

Brad Laner is one of the most creative musical minds you’ve probably never heard of. He’s a California guy that’s been deep in the experimental music scene since the mid-80s. From cassette excursions with Debt of Nature and Steaming Coils, to the monumental noise pop provocateurs Medicine in the late 80s and early 90s, to the electronic experimentation of Electric Company, Laner seems to pull influence and inspiration from all over the map. Besides his unique industrial-meets-psychedelic guitar sound, he’s a prolific studio master. His solo records, as well as the two Medicine reunion albums released in 2013 and 2014 have a sound all their own. Laner seems to create sonics that are both futuristic and classic. Buzzing guitars and industrial rhythms are surrounded by almost jazz-inflected vocal harmonies. Brad Laner seems to be as moved by the Mothers of Invention as “Mother Nature’s Son”.

Last year Laner released For Magnetic Tape with Drawing Room Records, a cassette release of Cecil Taylor-esque piano excursions. It’s a release where free jazz collides with the avante garde. It’s an intimate and personal release. Now, Drawing Room and Brad Laner present Micro-Awakenings, a double LP  with 4 musical suites that feel like traveling through a musical mind that shape shifts through styles and sounds. It’s experimental pop. An arthouse record that taken in all at once feels like a metamorphosis of the psyche.

The history of Micro-Awakenings begins in the early 2000s when Laner began writing and recording the suites that are included on the record. Between 2003 and 2009 the music was recorded and there were plans to release it as a double LP, then with another label. Plans fell through and the tracks were eventually released as a digital-only release as 61 single tracks through Mutant Sounds. But now, Brad Laner finally gives Micro-Awakenings the proper vinyl release it deserves through the excellent folks at Drawing Room Records.

So how does it sound? Well, imagine driving in some beat up old gas guzzler late through the night and flipping through the radio for something to listen to. It’s like channel surfing through these intergalactic stations that only appear when you’re traveling at the speed of unleaded through open-skied desert at 2am. The music ranges from crystalline, futuristic pop to lounge-y late night vibes. It runs the course from groovy bass numbers to experimental electronic. There are moments of Adrian Belew-esque pop experimentation(much like his underrated Op Zop Too Wah) and industrial-heavy sonic snark.

If you’re at all familiar with Laner’s later work on his solo albums, as well as the last two Medicine records, then you know this album sounds incredibly good. Each of the suites ebb and flow within themselves. It’s four album sides(or four long single tracks for the digital-only folks), and within those suites the mood and vibe changes and alternates every so often. Though it can be a heady mix to ingest, there’s still a playfulness throughout. Side C ends with a child talking in the mic through some heavy delay that reminds me of my own kids messing around in my studio when they were still young enough for things like that to entertain them.

Micro-Awakenings isn’t for the masses. It’s not barbecue and grilling music(though if you are playing this at your next barbecue please invite me.) It is, however, music for the musically adventurous. It’s an album to savor like a fine wine or exotic dessert. If you love Oneohtrix Point Never, Adrian Belew, Laner’s work in Medicine and his solo work(especially his score for the Beautiful Noise doc), then seek this album out. It feels and sounds like a lot of work and love went into these pieces. The least we can do is enjoy the fruits of his labor.

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