Richard Poulin 5-April-2008 Illuminated

Attila Medveczky: bass - keyboards - lead vocals
Dave Stevenson: guitars - backing vocals
Rusty Aceves: drums - percussion – electronics

That one really flew for a long time under the radar for many, including me. But this is a band from the San Francisco Bay Area that has gathered almost a cult following, slowly, but surely over the 13 years of its existence. In fact, Attila Medveczky and Dave Stevenson started playing as a duet at the end of the ‘80s, and after a short-lived experience in a larger band called The Fish, they reformed as Attila & Dave Project, and were soon joined by a permanent drummer, Rusty Aceves, the ‘one-that-hides-behind-the-band’s-name’.

‘Illuminated’ is already 6-year old, but it could as well be a 2008 release or a particularly well recorded and engineered masterpiece of the early heady turn of the ‘60s-early ‘70s. It’s a shame that it took 6 years to discover that one, and this is music that makes this instant ’click’ with me: something so fresh, so original and so perfect that it is beyond my understanding that ADP is not better known outside its faithful ranks of followers.

At the very first notes of ‘The Lotus Eaters’, one gets the clear impression of maturity and masterful craft. The first thing that strikes one is the assurance and expertise of Attila on vocals, who does an extraordinary job as the lead singer of the band. This is a stellar vocalist who delivers with a perfect pitch and a purity of delivery reaching the towering heights of a Paul McCartney or a Donovan, no less. Comparisons have been made with the lead singer of IQ (Peter Nicholls), but the first impression I got was that of John Ford, of Strawbs fame (cf. ‘From the Witchwood’ or ‘Grave New World’). A very Beatles-esque type of voice, an impression that is reinforced by the strong sense of melody deployed on the various tracks. The next impression is that we are led through a trip back to the psychedelic era circa the Woodstock period. And it works very well, the music being well served mainly by the soaring electric guitar (excellent work by Dave Stevenson) and an inventive rhythm section by Rusty Aceves that always keeps us on the edge of something different going on.

This is psych prog more than psych pop, so one can think a full-fledged Pink Floyd, ‘Meddle’-era, with better vocals and lyrics and a more folk-rock-oriented approach (except for some hyperfuzzy electric guitars here and there, which reaches heavenly intensities with a formidable but magnificent electric thunderstorm on ‘Illumination’). Even when the fuzz screams at full blast, the balance with the vocals is always preserved, and one always keeps the song-oriented structure intact and the thread offered by the assured voice of Attila the Psychedelic Conqueror.... In a way, the music sounds like the archetype of psych rock, and yet like nobody in particular, so the Pink Floyd reference holds as well as, let’s say Gong or Led Zeppelin (ca. III). One finds elements of each in the heady, sarcastic humor of the former and in the constant contrasts from acoustic to electric back to acoustic, etc. Even calm, almost Zen meditative passages on acoustic guitar such as in the ‘Streaming’ gain in color with the expert use of muffled fuzz introducing the electric guitar in the background, and then building in intensity with interesting soloing. One also encounters a similar crescendo structure with the sections heard on ‘A Game of Chess’, which features a bridge with very nice keyboards and Mellotron work by Attila. One number, the aptly named ‘The Golden Gates’, bites on the hypocrisy of some Biblical teachings along with a Renaissance-era or baroque melody on the harpsichord.

As mentioned earlier, the Beatles spirit is ubiquitous on ‘Illuminated’, and not only from the vocals, but also from the musical style. Thus, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ and ‘The Neon Light’ could have easily been major hits on Revolver-era albums by the Fab Four, so catchy and clever are the tunes and the song structure and the general spirit of the songs. The use of all sorts of exotic percussion does not hurt to yield that impression either.

So, take all the best elements of psychedelic rock of the ‘60s, including also the Grateful Dead (‘Anthem of the Sun’-era) and some ironic colors from less popular, acoustic acts such as the Principal Edwards Magic Theatre or the Incredible String Band, and blend in the heaviest fuzz guitar and the best rhythm sections you could find, and the best sound you can think of, and you will get something as memorable as ‘Illuminated’. A title which describes pretty well how I felt when I finished listening to it the first time.

The lyrics are also another point in favor of that superb record. This is excerpted from the artist’s own words: ‘Our new album, ILLUMINATED, is an observation of the current crisis of human faith and identity in an increasingly mechanized modern well as the dubious pleasures of pot smoking. (...) Some people find an answer through escapism, either through casual imbibing (The Lotus Eaters) or rampant consumerism (The Neon Light) For some, there is the tried and true method of traditional belief (The Golden Gates), although its own built in contradictions demand the kind of faith that can be its own curse as well as blessing (see T.S. Elliot’s' "Journey of the Magi.")’. This is indeed a pessimistic album with a unifying theme that sounds like the manifesto of hippies that that would have become indeed illuminated rather than intoxicated with their exotic chemical experiments, back in the days when that music was highly fashionable.

What will come next after an album of such perfection is anybody’s guess, but I entirely support the musicians in using that vehicle for increasing their fandom. It is a rare gem and a masterpiece of psychedelic prog. But how in the world were we when this flew in our neighborhood?

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