Deities – Smoke & Mirrors CD 2004
George Klagos – Livid Looking Glass Webzine
The second release of Smoke & Mirrors is an impressive two-disc collection of music inspired by Hindu Deities. Personally I found it quite interesting as a subject because I had read recently Roger Zelazny’s “Lord of Light” and I was still influenced by the book.
The CD booklet explains everything about the gods of the Hindu pantheon and each of the tracks is dedicated to one of them. The soundscapes created here are unique. Exploring in no man’s land, mixing ambient, ethnic, psychedelic, rock in their own certain way, managed to create an addictive collection of small soundtracks.
The result is sensual, bewitching, fresh and different music. The production is fine, everything is well balanced and both Spider Taylor and Michael Ely are fantastic musicians. This album is their finest and most mature work so far.
Zia Records – Tucson Arizona
Taking the credo that “children should be seen and not heard” one step further, ambient music should be heard but not noticed. At least that’s the way it usually works. But the subtext of what’s driving Smoke & Mirrors’ music is intriguing enough to make the music work on either thematic or subliminal level. To date, they’ve released … three albums … in 2003, 2004, and 2005 respectively. All three deserve your attention.
Rather than forge ahead with “Desert Exotica Part Two,” they focused their attention on Hindu gods and goddesses over a span of a two-CD set. It’s a testament to the music’s subtle pull that one can feel the spirituality of Vishnu or Kali without subscribing to any doctrine. It’s also a heckuva sound to do the horizontal bop to, if you get my drift. Sacrilege, shmacrilege, Hindu gods did the do once upon a time, which is why there are many Hindu deities now.
Phil Derby – Electroambient Space
Somewhere between the progressive ethnic-influenced rock of Ozric Tentacles and the lighter eastern influences of Jade Warrior comes Smoke & Mirrors, featuring Spider Taylor on guitar, bass, and sound effects, and featuring Michael Ely on synths and samples. Like the Ozrics and Jade Warrior, there is a very organic feel to this music despite the array of electronic sounds used.
Picking a song at random, such as Garuda, the Wings of Vishnu, finds accomplished restrained lead guitar, soft percussion, and a light smattering of dreamy effects. Perhaps the wildest assortment of influences is found on the opening track, Brahma, the Creator. The first few minutes sound like dark ambient. This then moves surprisingly into a dramatic orchestral section, which gradually segues to world-tinged beats and gonging bells.
The track immediately serves notice that this disc is going to explore a variety of musical styles. Taylor and Ely move with ease from rhythmic pop-length tunes like Blue Sapphire to longer contemplative passages like Peacocks and Swans. They do a spectacular job of creating a good flow from beginning to end, mixing fast, slow and mid-tempo pieces just right.
Disc one closes out with the short, delicate Lotus Blossom, once again featuring Taylor moving softly, deftly across his fret board as Ely adds just the right electronics for atmosphere. Disc two provides more of the same, great musicianship and great variety. I particularly like Parvati, the Powerful with its cool meandering bass line and softly beating tribal percussion, making a great mood piece. So go figure, a guy like me with very narrow tastes in electronic music stretches his horizons a bit.
Give Deities a try.
Andy Garibaldi – Dead Earnest
Now if ever an electronic music CD could be said to be “something different” but immensely gripping on an epic listening scale, then this is it. If you had to liken their music to anyone, then imagine a cross between In The Nursery, early Orb, Makyo, Roach & Metcalf, Banco De Gaia and Clear Light and you’re pretty close to this massive slice of exotic audio feasting.
Across two CD’s, nearly two and a half hours of music and 22 tracks, you’ll witness mile-wide electronic music layers, soundscapes, melodies and tunes that stretch out in all directions, the aural equivalent of looking out onto a gorgeous blue sea surrounded by beautiful scenery.
The percussive and electro-percussive rhythms are unashamedly rooted in the chilled-out glory days of mid-nineties ambience, while the deep, dubby and throbbing bass lines are kept strong but unobtrusive, so that they add to the overall soundscape while still propelling the sound to even greater heights.
The extra presence of early seventies Pink Floyd-esque chiming laid-back electric guitar leads merely serves as icing on an already substantial cake. There is no way in the world that you can pin this thing down in terms of its style or content—it simply does not conform to any “pigeon-hole” and—like the Glimmer Room ‘Grey Mirrors’ album before it—simply transcends all that to become this immense example of filmic, flowing, huge-sounding, melodic, deep, multi-layered and strong-sounding musical opus from keys, synths, electronics, guitars and electronically-derived acoustic-sounding drums/percussion.
Instrumental, themed around Hindu deities and with tracks from just under three minutes to over twelve, this is a truly mind-expanding sea of music of great vision and execution, one that you should waste no time in hearing.
Chuck Graham – Tucson Citizen
If you, like many of us, start feeling fidgety while stuck in Tucson’s gridlock, inching past one road construction project after another, pop a copy of this CD into the player.
Oro Valley musicians Spider Taylor and Michael Ely have put together a double album of ambient electronica capable of calming most anyone. Unlike New Age compositions that sound the same played forward or backward, these two players create shimmering sounds that have forward propulsion.
This is particularly good because in traffic you just want to calm down, not go to sleep.
“Deities” is a double album, so sensitive souls can play one disc for morning rush hour, the other for afternoon rush hour.
Thematically, the 22 tracks are linked by titles to Hindu gods and goddesses. The liner notes provide a little spiritual guidance, but mostly you are left on your own to find meaning in the flowing sounds. And that is good.
Titles include “Brahma, the Creator” and “Vishnu, the Protector,” and more atmospheric names such as “Yellow Sapphire” and “Temples.”
There is nothing aggressive here. Some tracks include nature sounds. Remember, Taylor (guitar and sound effects) and Ely (keyboards) call themselves Smoke & Mirrors. Illusion is their gift to us.
It’s a gift that at first seems to lack detail but grows richer with each trip through the CD player. It takes a while for one’s hyperventilating senses to calm down enough to hear what is really in the grooves—or digits, as the case may be.
Matt Horwarth – Sonic Curiosity
This release from 2004 offers 79 minutes of luxurious electronic music. Smoke & Mirrors is: Michael Ely and Spider Taylor.
Delicately synthesized textures formulate overhead like a elegant cloudbank seething with the promise of inspired music. Relaxed percussion filters into view, conveying a reserved dynamic designed to stir but not agitate. Arid guitars ooze across the ethereal terrain, rich with desert sensibilities and slide sustains of glistening metallic disposition. Versatile sampling provides a plethora of auxiliary sounds, from tubular bells to lush orchestral swells. The unified meshing of this variety can be quite compelling while rarely straying from a rhythmically mellow mood.
The desert guitars add a tasty flair to the congenial percussives, evoking midnight vigils atop desolate mesas. Meanwhile, the electronics provide a grand skyscape punctuated with glittering effects that conspire with engaging riffs to immerse the listener in an uptempo transcendental experience.
The deities explored in this music belong primarily to Eastern religions, while the melodies are often rooted in Western rapport, giving this release a very global feel. Imagine a philosophical cowboy’s perspective on Eastern theology delivered in a dust bowl mode.
5 out of 5 stars : Michael & Spider do it again!
I fell in love with “Perfume of Creosote” and eagerly awaited Smoke & Mirrors’ next bit of artistic brilliance. And as expected, they did not disappoint. “Deities” is somewhat more ‘ambient’ than their first release, yet it still has that unmistaeable Smoke & Mirrors sound… layers upon layers of hypnotic melodies, and lots of exotic percussion, which I can never get enough of.
The tracks are longer, filling two CDs, but the samples here are taken from the beginning of the tracks, so some of them don’t really showcase the meat of the tunes. Very interesting concept, spanning existence from “Brahma, the Creator” to “Shiva, the Destroyer.” (Warning: the first 3 minutes of the opening track might frighten small children.) These guys can do no wrong in my book. Two thumbs up, and two big toes as well.
Todd Zachritz – Godsend Online
Michael Ely and Spider Taylor’s second release brings 140-odd minutes minutes of highly palatable and cinematic tribal pop exotica. Like the bastard love child of Martin Denny and the early Factory Records roster, these 22 instrumental tracks are an expansive journey through ancient cultures as seen through the eyes of modern soundtrack composers.
Each track on ‘Deities’ is devoted to/inspired by a different Hindu deity, and with their highly-developed melodic structure and a good ear for nuance and playful mystery, SMOKE & MIRRORS have constructed a melodic and accessable travelogue. In fact, their upbeat instrumental work favorably reminds me of THE CHURCH frontman STEVE KILBEY’s obscure ‘Earthed’ release.
‘Saraswati, The Wise’ is a standout, mashing up tablas and banjo alongside drum programming, synth, and guitars for a wonderously joyous vibe. Spectacular, living, and vibrant sounds that uplift the spirits and open up whole new (and old) worlds.
Musicianship: 10 out of 10:
When discussing Musicianship, it goes without saying that Michael Ely and Spider Taylor are excellent musicians. So, going into the phenomenal guitar licks that Spider plays with ease or the incredibly beautiful soundscapes that Michael makes flow from one instrument to the next in a given song on the keyboard is basically going to be gushing babble at this point!
However, what really impressed me about their ‘musicianship’ on Deities that I didn’t know when I first heard The Perfume of Creosote (their first album as Smoke & Mirrors) was that they are basically computer illiterate! I learned this reading an article on Aural Fixation’s site that was from an interview of Michael when he was discussing this CD in November of 2004. To be able to use the computer as an instrument–that he says he doesn’t even know how to ‘properly take advantage of the tools available within the music program they use’ and to have the quality of music come out of using that instrument is truly great musicianship. There aren’t ‘glitches’ between computer used editing or creating. Everything flows seamlessly on this disc to give a feeling of richness that seems impossible to believe that only 2 men created. Incredible.
Songwriting: 10 out of 10:
I also am giving high ranks in this category. First, the inspiration for Deities and the way it is carried out truly does paint the picture they are trying to convey. The songs were written to reflect the different personalities of the ‘Hindu deities, both male and female, are one in the same and represent different aspects of one God (a divine force that cannot be seen or fully understood)’. The different sounds, melodies and rhythms depict different personalities and evoke different emotions within the listener. The songs weren’t written just to please the ear of the listener, but to stir the soul. Excellent follow through on their mission!
Sound Quality/Professionalism: 10+ out of 10:
As with Perfume, Deities also has an excellent sound. In ambient music, it is imperative that there is no background hiss, noise or strange foreign recording sound, because you are creating an atmosphere with the music. Anything could ruin that if it is ‘off’. However with Deities, I believe, your sound quality expectations are higher (after all it is music that is depicting different aspects of God!) and Smoke & Mirrors lived up to those recording expectations with this disc. They are VERY RICH and FULL discs.
Packaging: 10 out of 10:
As with Perfume, the packaging fits the music. Beautiful art on the discs themselves thanks to David Wade-Stein [Note: While I can take credit for the artwork and design, the art on the discs themselves is from a photo by Skip Hunt, credited in the CD booklet, and used with his permission –Dave]. Track listing and descriptions of various Hindu deities also listed to give you insight as to what the style of each song is depicting. Proper credits, etc. listed. Excellent packaging.
(I am limiting to a few songs a disc, but in all honesty–I like them all!)
Red Disc: Yellow Sapphire / Saraswati, the Wise / *Vishnu, the Protector
Green Disc: *Rama and Sita / Hanuman, the Monkey God / Soma, the Moon God / Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles
(* = stand out track)
Overall Rating: 10++ out of 10:
I realize that my ratings seem high and over done. I realize people may think by reading this that I am easily pleased. Truth is–I’m not. Truth is, I listen to all types of music EVERY DAY and while there are many discs I enjoy, few make me want to EXPERIENCE them over and over and over again–Deities did. It not only is just great, beautiful music, it truly takes you to a ‘different place’ when you listen gives you a strong sense of depth to your soul and a fullness to life. It is more like a feeling that you have when you see beautiful scenery, or when you are lying on a beach in Maui or experiencing a tranquil walk in nature. You can view photographs of those sorts of things and be reminded of them, but it’s just not the same as the experience. There is a lot of ambient music that I enjoy, but, the music of Deities can not only make you feel good, but transport you to a place that is outside of yourself for brief peaceful moments.
Do you need a vacation but can’t even leave your desk? Let the guitar work of Spider Taylor drive the ship of Michael Ely’s keyboards straight out of this world and into the heavens with you on board and be refreshed. (Jen Lush)
Some of you may remember our lauding praise on Smoke & Mirrors previous release “The Perfume of Creosote”. The lush compositions and soundscapes continue on this masterpiece of a concept album. The album centers around Hindu deities and spirituality from the Far East. The magnificent arrangement of progressive rock with ambient psychedelics is unfathomable at times. Passions are high and you could find this to be the soundtrack to a journey through a desert with multi-faceted intricacies that will take countless listens to fully take in. (J-Sin)
Emergency Unit Radio
L.A. streets and neon city lights, long forgotten–ghostly friendly faces in the wilderness and night… Red Wedding held the flame and it burned bright. Soul mates Michael Ely and Spider Taylor have long crossed the bridge…Wings have spread.
Arizona (their new location) inspired a burning desertic sojourn, The Perfume of Creosote: A whole bunch of alternative, lounge psychedelia, world ambient music which found its audience out there and that was cool and sweet to our two guys who talk to Cheyenne and listen to snakes and sand. Now with Deities, we’re granted a more insightful journey, which takes our hand and ballads us towards the eternal India spaces. From the mysterious Brahma to the fatal Shiva, we embark here on a very intimate yet so wide path–I encourage any silentwalker to tread upon (you know who you are).
To jump from the cliff sounds the key. To jump from the kick ass killer guitars and roars, wild innocent boiling blood, scattered in all directions, to the seminal, intricate, intimate path to the Land of No. Silences and Breath. Echoes and Shy Flame. Ecstatic, shamanic Buddhistic flow. Belief, belief…
“Blue Sapphire” has those Lodger reminiscent echoes and that’s just sweet and even better in the whole thing.
The percussions have it nicely built that it insinuates into you to finally just heighten your vibration to the finest level and have you transported. Be the incense smoke…dissolve. The waves are there, and Smoke & Mirrors just water it beautifully.
Spider’s guitar and bass are just exquisite as ever. Tracks like “Peacocks and Swans” have a guitar line and sound effects you’d love to have as an everlasting song woven to your rebel urchin blood. I tell you this guy has his soul at the edge of his fingers, caressing the strings alright.
Krishna, with its filmic intro suddenly bathes you in the most hypnotic rhythm–you’ll die for those percussions, I swear! They’re really too good!!!
Hanuman is like childhood feelings taking form. I swear I have felt this music inside as a kid, only I was not a musician and thanks to whatever Deity, Smoke & Mirrors did it for me (alright not solely for me–we’re among Buddhism flavour here, so let’s just forget a bit about the ego, dudes). I mean, it is just like leafing through the pages of the mysterious book which images both scare and fascinate you as a kid… And you return to it all the time.
The lavish bass-line and knock-knock rhythm to “Parvati” catch your spinal light, and birds, they do fly from there all over you. Look out. Smile and smell.
The epic “Ganesha” is clanging into you like rough transparent pieces of shining gem. Love the walk. Put your naked feet to the ground. And don’t touch earth, as you go onwards.
This album is like some kind of precious jewel. Talisman to keep in velvet purple, inside black wooden box, incense scent and hazy curtains gently moved by a breath-like breeze.
I never thought the desert could inspire such quenching melodies. The desert around, the quest in yourself… Sharing the burn and dancing the quest. Water is born from fire. What else is to be said?
Fly. Fly and take the steps… The steps… The steps…
Piero Scaruffi – Author of “A History of Rock Music” – www.scaruffi.com
The two-CD 22-track concept album Deities (Aural Fixation, 2004), devoted to musical representations of Hindu deities, relies on a smaller stylistic palette but a deeper exploration of moods. A few pieces are complex cinematic tales.
The three-part Brahma the Creator smoothly transitions from a dramatic psychedelic vortex littered with piano dissonances into dark pounding orchestral music that in turn leads to a crescendo of ethnic percussions and choir. Another ten-minute evolving composition, Vishnu the Protector, opens with a few minutes of murky melodic fragments before a majestic theme soars above turbulent winds and slowly disappears in a shimmering echo of colors.
Announced by a horn fanfare, Krishna the Divine is structured like a procession piece, with syncopated polyrhythms by ethnic instruments and symphonic explosions to highlight the march.
However, the bulk of the first disc is descriptive rather than cinematic, each track crafting a musical portrait of the deity.
A typical setting is the combination of Indra the Rainmaker: sweet drones of strings and voices that combine with a chaotic multitude of metallic sounds. Less typical is the desert hallucination of the ten-minute psalm Saraswati the Wise, that turns into a more conventional form of instrumental guitar rock, despite spiritual languors a` la John McLaughlin.
It is one of the many moments in which the duo sounds under the influence of psychedelic music. The impressionistic Peacocks and Swans is another one: distorted guitar lines play with animal sounds, electronic shadows and barely-plucked instruments.
Alas, the second disc seems to bring out the hedonist side of things with a series of danceable tracks. This ranges from the tribal Hanuman the Monkey God to the Brazilian-sounding Durga the Warrior to the exotic jazz-rock of Ganesha the Remover of Obstacles and Cobras and Garlands.
Needless to say, this second disc is hardly original or intriguing or even entertaining. The one exception is Parvati the Powerful, twelve minutes of pastoral-psychedelic ecstasy, but perhaps eleven minutes too long.
By the last track, though, Shiva The Destroyer evokes the other more or less obvious connection, the one with the grandiloquent progressive-rock of King Crimson and their followers.