Album Review: Pocahaunted – Passage

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Pocahaunted is undoubtedly an acquired taste. The supremely psychedelic, often formless, nearly Native American Sturm und Drang isn’t exactly something that will draw huge crowds outside of the drone community. Heck, the name’s probably off-putting for some people. But, if you’ve even had an inkling that you might get into drone, Pocahaunted is the perfect first step.

The cover of Passage (which is easily one of the best of the year) gives quite a clear indication of the vinyl’s contents. The font is very Rumours (which is no surprise, as the girls are wont to cover “The Chain”); it proudly proclaims that it is in STEREO; the deep red light; Bethany Cosentino and Amanda Brown (the so-called Olsen twins of drone) looking epic with their tribal-y tattoos and kerchief-ed coifs.

The music is downright molasses. As usual, the vocals are largely chanted, attempting to emulate traditional Native American vocalization but also perfectly encompassing the eerie campfire feel of the cover. The instrumentation, again as usual, is a murky pool of wavy, clashing guitars accompanied by thumping mallet drums.

But, after the advances of last year’s phenomenal Chains, this album feels like a step backwards. The dubby, polyrhythm that made Chains an interesting twist to their tribal sound is gone, instead relying on more simplistic rhythms and chord systems. (I hesitate to use the term “progression,” as that implies an arc that the album revels in denying.) The sweep and climactic pushes of Chains are unfortunately also not quite represented on Passage, which, for droney better or worse, keeps a slippery yet constant path.

It’s hard to differentiate the four tracks. They’re all fairly similar: the clang of guitar lopes in under a ton of reverb; the vocals caterwaul in, chanting and echoing from the spine; the heavy tom drumming thumps and lingers close to the back. Nothing on the record really stands out as any more memorable or powerful than anything else. The album just nods and bobs on, a rolling Mississippi of drone that keeps on pushing to the very end.

While Passage might be a perfect introduction to modern drone rock, it certainly isn’t the best drone out there. It’s not even close to the group’s best recording. But, the grooves on this record are perfect to sit back and try to fall into, without feeling clubbed on the head or dunked completely under. There’s enough familiar sound on here to keep from alienating people, and the structures and passages (totaling only 40 minutes) won’t be enough to push people away or frustrate. All that said, the powerful stabs and yowls that made last year’s record such a success just aren’t here. But considering Pocahaunted’s prodigious output (nearly 30 recordings over the past four years, including live releases, split records and EPs, cassettes, CD-Rs, etc.), we’ll know soon enough whether this step is indicative of anything more than this one album.