If you’re not being led by a knowledgeable guide, wading into the deep woods of the Internet inhabited by left-field bedroom pop composers, experimental hip-hop producers, avant garde electronic artists, and the many boutique labels that sustain them (vinyl, cassette, and digital alike) can be a daunting task for the uninitiated. It makes perfect sense, then, that we stumbled across Power Animal’s lush sophomore release Exorcism via the Oakland, CA cassette label Crash Symbols, who’s staff was once responsible for the music blog Get Off the Coast, which used to be an integral member of the recently killed Altered Zones network.
Power Animal is led by Philadelphia singer/songwriter Keith Hampson as a three-piece, freak-folk outfit (at least according to their first album, 2011’s People Songs), but Hampson recorded Exorcism by himself over the course of 10 months in which he was intermittently hospitalized for various illnesses. For the majority of that time, he was too fatigued to leave his bed or play instruments, and arranged a good deal of the album on a SP-404 portable sampler with the help of a box of thrift store purchased cassette tapes he’d accrued through the years.
The result is an unusually triumphant album of sample-based, analog pocket symphonies, where Hampson’s palpable optimism is only tempered by underlying sense of longing for a future when his body can keep up with his restless imagination. And its that restlessness that proves to be the album’s engine; boasting a collection of tracks that easily traces a lineage through the quaking, sample-centric craziness of the Avalanches, the experimental hip-hop of Prefuse 73, and the warm '80s nostalgia of Washed Out, Exorcism barely sits still.
Songs like the opener “Better Water” and “Glandular Fever” vibrate with the gauzy fibers from a chorus of vocal tracks and jittery break beats, holding tight with anticipation like an eight-year-old looking out the window and waiting out a rainy day. “Mold Spores” stops and starts with a beat that utilizes the bristling, frayed edges of deteriorating fidelity (like a copy of Genesis’ Duke that was stuck in the tape deck of a '88 Honda Civic) before snapping into heady atmospheric pop.
Exorcism is even set up perfectly for the limited run of cassette tapes it will be released on, featuring one side of original compositions, and a second side of mirror image remixes performed by bedroom composing royalty like Lushlife, Melting Season, Spirituals, Botany, and Golden Ages, all of whom provide a slew of new textures and influences to funnel Hampson’s melodies through (Lushlife’s remix of “Better Water” proves to be best of show, giving the album a much welcomed shot of hip-hop bravado).
But, especially within the context of the recording process, the title cut sums up best the contagious ambition Exorcism possesses. The track pulsates with glittering flecks of cassette tape warble, chiming percussion pieces, and a headlong momentum as Hampson imbues hope in lyrics that are both fragile and determined: “I’m gonna live well if it kills me/ I’m gonna exercise it from me/ I’m gonna deep breathe in the morning/Until you pardon yourself from my thoughts.”
The bucket-list declarations made by Hampson hover close to all those self-help mantras ripe for parody, but his wavering vocals and strained delivery make the lyrics heartbreakingly sincere and believably cathartic. Suitably, the moniker Power Animal invokes the psychological and metaphysical support of a tutelary spirit guide, which, when coupled with the music of Exorcism, implies some sort of shamanistic ritual aimed at renewal. Did the album provide some sort of rebirth for its troubled author? Maybe. All that matters is that Hampson believes, and makes his listeners believe, that brighter days are really ahead.
Band page: http://poweranimal.tumblr.com/
Music Page: http://humankindnessoverflowing.bandcamp.com/album/exorcism