A veteran both in solo and ensemble formats of dense psychedelic rock, guitarist Stephen R. Smith has adopted the Ulaan Khol moniker in order to release a three-part suite entitled Ceremony. In this first installment, adepts of psychedelic noise will find nothing particularly unexpected or genre-bending, just first-rate aural overload that recalls the outer-space transmissions of Growing, Popol Vuh, and Flying Saucer Attack. Minimal drums, mostly reverbed cymbals and tribal shakers, anchor the storms and waves of effects-drenched electric guitar in that open space where shoegaze, krautrock and ambient music mingle like churning storm fronts.
The shimmering, overdriven ambience that hangs over Ulaan Khol’s music is an index of a deep reckoning with the materiality of electrified sound. As any player knows, guitar tone is a malleable and sensitive beast, and within the canon of the instrument’s heroes, there is a recognizable strain of those who are master sculptors of its singular sonics. How you’re playing is almost secondary to what you’re playing on, which amplifier you’re piping it through, how your effect pedals are dialed up, and Smith’s careful approach to electric overload is on par with that of Brooklyn noise-rockers A Place to Bury Strangers.
As concerns song structure, the m.o. of this type of psych record is neither conventional pop nor twenty-minute parabolic climax but the in media res stoner bliss of endless, undulating variation. Along with the atmospheric guitar tones, it’s the pendulum swing of the infinite two-chord oscillation that produces the record’s lulling, stormy see-saw vibe. There’s solo-centric psych rock out there that is supposed to take you on an epic voyage, and there’s works like Ulaan Khol’s that aim to drop you in the middle of the ocean to be tossed on the waves, cast to the blackest bottom, and left to drift windless on its eternal surface.