Long Shadows is a retrospective of Urdog, the work of a mercurial band whose music may have been summoned from fog and ghosts yet possesses considerable staying power beyond their brief time on the planet. “We were influenced by the horror of late-capitalism in general every day” says drummer and vocalist Erin Rosenthal, who first met Dave whilst ‘bouncing on a couch like two 5 year olds’ at a Flying Luttenbachers show. This glued and glues us together, also love of bicycles, French fries and faerie folk. Big influences for me were Robert Wyatt, Incredible String Band, Dagmar Krause, but especially This Heat, Riot Grrrl and 90’s hardcore”.
This compendium marks something of a fresh step into the retrospective for Rocket
Recordings, whose Chris Reeder and John O’Carroll were introduced to the band in the early ‘00s through Steve Krakow of Plastic Crimewave Sound and via the fabled Aquarius Records new release list. Revisiting the two full-length Urdog CDs in lockdown and realising that none of this material had been released on vinyl, the label took a chance on a 15-year-old email address and were pleasantly surprised when organist and vocalist Jeff Knoch replied. “Something that kind of stands out in retrospect is that, relatively speaking, Urdog existed for a rather short period of time—just three years” says Jeff, describing the utilitarian methods of the band “I think we all favoured immediacy and directness over belaboured production and refinement. If you let certain shortcomings, or inabilities or even a lack of the “appropriate” tools inhibit you, you’ll never get anything done”
True to this uncompromising ethos, the band had effectively run its course by 2006, with Jeff moving to the desert, Dave starting a record store, and Erin studying plant medicine, after one final hurrah at the celebrated psych fest Terrastock in their home town. Yet the transcendental nature of their music meant it wasn’t so easily forgotten – “Over the years since then, where I have been asked to DJ at festivals I’ve played ‘Ice On Water’ and am more or less guaranteed to get at least one person coming up to me asking ‘what is this?’” notes Chris Reeder – indeed, to bask in this track, ‘DMZ’ or ‘Eyelid Of Moon’ is to set foot into an audial patch of land equally nurtured by the drone ’n’ klang of Amon Düül II and the cultish hallucinations of Sunburned Hand Of The Man, replete with both an earthiness of approach and a powerful celestial intensity.
“We used our intuitive connection to let three distinct voices be heard” reflects Dave. “There was no foundation; they supported each other. Once that is achieved, a vibe develops. Getting into the space of a song is something you can’t notate. We had the keys but getting to the door was the trick. Some nights we got all the way through the roof to the stars.” From such disparate inspiration came psychically heavy jams and wild improvisational voyages from this triumvirate which chart an instinctive and wild journey, drawing the interplanetary dots between early ‘70s freak-flag-waving transgressions and the folk-tinged frontiers of the early 21st century US underground.
‘The Open – Intro’ sets the scene with its haunting countenance and ethereal vocals that make you sit up and pay attention before ‘Ice on Water’ that much talked about DJ set earworm takes control and doesn’t let up. The fluttering synth riff makes you wonder what you are listening to and the motorik drum beat only adds to the intensity of the slow burner that changes tact five minutes in just to make sure you are paying attention. ‘Ani Nie Ma’ has Eastern underpinnings that invoke imagery of Arabian nights in hashish fuelled souks; close your eyes and lose yourself in the haunting vocals and intoxication presented by this track. Again, a change of approach mid track only heightens the head-spinning feeling. ‘The Open – Extract’ continues the opener before ‘Eyelid of Moon’ provides a dose of Avant-guard steeped in such obscurity that it would satisfy the most ardent aural palette. ‘DMZ’ builds from there, increasing in intensity with every whirling repetition. ‘Triumph’ changes direction slightly, with a more traditional guitar sound dominating, the versatility of which only adds to the brilliance of the album. Concluding ‘Zombie Cloud’ is the short but sweet instrumental climax to the diverse offering.
Urdog specialise in mantric repetition, ceremonial ambience and fuzz tinged blowouts. Long Shadows fills a gap in your record collection that you didn’t know you had