Music Reviews
Ancient Romans

Sun Araw Ancient Romans

(Sun Ark Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Although the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius -- which is also the title of the first track on Sun Araw's new, fifth full-length LP Ancient Romans -- wrote the epic poem De rerum natura (translated into English as On the Nature of Things), I'm quite sure he never described getting stoned to music. Back then, how far and wide Pythagoras' Music of The Spheres concept affected the masses remains a problem for music historians; but it's safe to conclude that his mathematical and celestial theory, based both on a legendary visit to a blacksmith (where he heard the tone each different sized hammer made when struck) and the order of the stars shining in the night remained unexplored during the Golden Age of Rome. The combination of getting stoned and hearing music must have been relegated to the dark side of town, regarded as both experiment and accident, influenced as much by pagan rituals and a curiosity for creating a rhythm. It certainly wasn't "natural" enough to fit into the dactylic hexameter of Lucretius.

With long, Roman-themed titles, getting stoned seems central --even welcomed and invited -- to listening to the eight lengthy, drone-guitar songs on Ancient Romans. Zoning out and listening become the same process here: each track seeks attention from its opulent, psychedelic textures, but also prolongs a form of dissociation from the same hypnotic drones that make it saturated with Sun Araw's special form of musical longevity. On Ancient Romans, Stallones replaces the typical stoner-at-the-beach vibe for the exotic and occultist - think of him playing Pompeii instead of Pink Floyd, and you get the atmosphere created here. And just like how Pink Floyd developed long journeys that were both about searching a landscape (Dark Side of the Moon) and your inner feelings (The Wall) there's an almost conceptual styling to the order of these songs, or rather, a video game-like level-after-level type of architectural completion, where the sounds of the songs become more dense and complicated one after the other.

Since the exotic sounds of the Middle East and Africa have inspired other Sun Araw releases, it's easy to hear how he transforms his inspiration - the mysticism and culture of ancient Rome - into one hour and twenty minutes of music. Ancient Romans has Stallones decoding ciphers in the stars, setting up altars at ancient ruins and even screaming to the Gods on tracks Crown Shell and Crete in a washed-out, granulated altered time-zone. As listeners we are free from the distraction of space and consciousness while the record lasts: the omnipresence of these tunes parallels the multifarious stages of awareness. At Delphi becomes an ambient, sonic Polaroid -- a mantra for one of the most important religious sanctuaries in ancient Greece. Other tracks, like Fit For Casear, could be used in the 90's shows Xena, or as background music to an epic Magic The Gathering battle, or even for pondering what the effects Spaghettification has on the body caught in a black hole. The final 15-minute track, Impluvium, explodes in an Afrobeat freakout, complete with MIDI handclaps, muffled vocals, and a noisy, almost-danceable guitar riff.

Like the deserts in Super Mario World, there's something imitative, teenage and kitschy about Ancient Romans, a kind of naive imitation of what ancient Rome and Greece should sound like based on the pictures of a 3rd-grade history textbook, a National Geographic magazine, or visiting the Italian section of Epcot. Yet these eight songs sound so mature and organic, they escape all condemnations: what we have instead are the electroacoustic soundscapes of the cosmos that continue where Sun Ra and Hawkwind left off: Music As Space Travel, Music As Time Machine. The music of today dubbed "neo-primitive" needs a wizard like Sun Araw to travel with us back in time, whether it's fifty years, two hundred years, or two thousand years. If ancient Rome is where you want to go, Ancient Romans is your time machine; your one-way ticket to that magical, distant land.