The idea of a White Rainbow might be conspicuously contradictory, but, then again, you could say that about the music Portlander Adam Forkner makes. Really, the notion that sprawling psychedelic instrumentals could amount to more than drug-addled self-indulgence is as unlikely as a monochromatic prism. But here’s Prism of Eternal Now, nine tracks that subvert nearly every expectation of what psych rock can be.
First, there’s a rigor to Forkner’s production that places the songs closer to electronic music’s gratuitous detail. (That Prism‘s auteur has a mean work ethic was suspected when the band’s first release, the five-CD and one-DVD White Rainbow Box, topped out at four-and-a-half hours. That Forkner played on several of Portland’s best releases of the year, from Yacht’s to Little Wings’, sealed the deal.) The ever-shifting instrumental palettes on several songs ensure they arc and crest rather than blankly hover in the background. Opener "Pulses" builds from a modest composition of tabla beats, rattling shakers, and a whooping vocal loop to an organ groove iced with scorching hot guitar solos that split and stab like lightning.
Fortunately, Forkner’s vision of psychedelic music is not a descendent of meandering hippie jams but, rather, the more intellectual experimentation of ’70s musicians from Eno to Can and Faust. On "For Terry," for example, an organ lurches quietly before erupting into shimmering runs of effects-drenched guitar, calling to mind the laser-guided melodies of No Pussyfooting, Eno’s landmark collaboration with Robert Fripp. Though Forkner is a tasteful producer throughout — from slow-motion drones to soft-focus synthesizers — it is his guitar playing that ignites these songs. White-hot, shamelessly volcanic leads dance over "Pulses" and "For Terry," and looped textures create an orchestral ambience on "Guitars."
Although the second half of Prism of Eternal Now drifts into moody atmospherics, it’s too dimensional to lapse into forgettable washes of sound. In some ways, song titles like "Waves" and "Awakening" fully articulate the pieces of music they signify, splitting the difference between new age and art-film soundtrack. For most pop-music listeners, these excursions are less exciting than Forkner’s more guitar-based compositions, but they’re quietly chilling, too. Where most psych music strives for the sonic equivalent of "Far out, man," Forkner capably creates music that speaks to a whole range of emotions.