Michael and Spider: Iridescent Garden CD 2008
Musicianship & Songwriting – 10 out of 10
Michael and Spider’s ability to create music just astounds me. No matter what genre they have played during their musical lifetimes, they have this way of being totally unique, genuine and fluid in their sound. This disc is no exception. The theme laden soundscapes on this disc are a beautifully interwoven “story” that not only has the peaceful serenity of the sea as depicted by Spider Taylor’s smooth, strings of guitar and bass, but it has the drama, edge and soul of both humanity and creature with texture, sound and melody that is laid by Michael Ely. The depth and character of each track is multi dimensional showing great skill in not only their ability to THINK how the music should sound, but their precision in carrying it out. Excellent.
Sound Quality/Professionalism – 10 out of 10
I believe this CD sounds better than a lot of ambient discs who have been put together by several studio musicians in the best studios. I personally know the guys are on a budget, but you could never tell this from the disc at all.
Packaging – 9 out of 10
The only reason I didn’t give it a “10” is because it is a bit busy on the inside only because it was limited to one sheet. I would have loved for there to have been a larger sleeve with more beautiful art from Will Lewis included. Other than that, I feel the packaging set the stage for what is inside the case.
Ouija Board, Orchids & Waterfalls, Jungle Red, Kon Tiki, Davy Jones’s Locker, Neptune
Overall Rating – 10 out of 10
Iridescent Garden takes you on a journey…One that begins at daybreak at a tropical paradise, continues through the adventures of the day and evening hours, dark passions and parties well into the night, until the quiet still before the dawn of a new day. Then, with Neptune’s guidance, you are carried back into the “real world” to face your life refreshed and renewed.
When I think of storytelling in music, generally folk or country comes to mind, mainly because of its lyrical content. However, it’s a beautiful thing when a story can be told in melody and rhythm alone—allowing the mind to put in your story, mixed in the magic of the sound. Michael Ely definitely has a gift of storytelling that is brought to life only when he and his partner Spider Taylor together flesh out the intricate details of the characters, scenes and drama. It is in this collaboration that the magic occurs in their music.
Sounds of mythical creatures as well as natural ones are intertwined in not only retro pop sounds, but also tribal, rock and contemporary jazz. This would sound like a non cohesive mixture on the surface, but, it’s in the duo’s ability to mix it all together with theme and substance that makes it all work. There are not only moments of darkness and mystery, but of light and clarity that can touch you to your core. For me, music is not only my way to relax, but it is my drug for escape…and Michael and Spider always have the best ‘fix’ I can get!
Below are my notes I wrote on each of the songs…..
The disc starts off very slow and mellow…thoughts of a tropical vacation at sunrise…. (Orchids & Waterfalls)
Mermaids lends the same feeling with a little darkness and mystery in the sound…(much like the mythical creatures the title names) the ending of the song really becomes magical.
The tempo picks up with White Diamonds. Reminiscent of a retro/80s soft rock feel in some of the echoing guitar parts that are imbedded throughout the song. Very basic back beat with intricate guitar patterns lingering thru the music.
Volcano offers a more dark sound in both the beat and guitar sounds. More fuzz on the guitar and more drama with the melody. Both sinister and beautiful—much like a volcanic mountain slowly building to an explosion.
Starfish in a Liquid Sky — psychedelic in sound to start. Both odd and harmonious sounds jelled with a moaning guitar sound…Much like a soundscape to a movie. An interlude of sound that brings textures and colors to mind that you would see in the ocean.
Then Ouija Board comes right in after the interlude with a strong melodic sound. Dreamy guitar licks with a darker, smoother beat and sound. Building in suspense as it progresses… Hidden guitar licks are a treat in this song. I really enjoy the darker undertones. Not too dark, but just enough to titillate your senses. This song leaves you wanting more.
Enchanted – This track begins nothing like its title. One might think that the song is more about tribal rituals and dance while one is in a trance. Like a person having a bit of a troubling dream. Although this track is short, it is very effective and beautiful.
After you awaken from the dream, Jungle Red offers a journey that you must take to find whatever it is your looking for. With animal sounds in the back to give that jungle feel, it took me on a bit of a different trip—more like a drive in a convertible—not just a casual Sunday drive, but more like a trip that was fast, urgent and beautiful at the same time—with the radio blaring some wonderful rock guitar…. Most current, radio friendly song so far.
Opium has that feeling of a sexy party… A bit of Asian flavor—but darker and definitely not old world in sound. Also a short track, but it speaks an entire story in its short duration.
Kon Tiki opens back on the ocean front…not in a hidden room (like Opium) but out in the air. Now the sun is beginning to set… Emotions are strong….After a day of sensual, spiritual activities…the evening is an awakening of the inner self… Kon Tiki is very moving, stirring to your soul. It is an anticipation of what is yet to come.
Second 10 tracks:
Title track, Iridescent Garden…. Moonlit…romantic…you can smell Jasmine and musk…. A warm gentle breeze of sound. Shimmer and light dances off the plant life…. Just a very romantic track.
French Sailors offers a different kind of night life on the island…. Fun, dancing, big group partying, etc…. Big sexy sailors…Great track.
The beginning of Voodoo Doll has a “country” sound before the beginning of tribal ritual. Sort of can make you think about the “locals” on the island, unlike the visiting sailors!
The Flying Dutchmen seems a bit somber….Maybe a weary soul….Kind of a sad melodic song…Not depressing, just sad.
Davy Jones’s Locker is the most rockin’ song on the disc. It sounds like big, burly pirates…sailors…. Soldiers… very hot rhythmically and melodically… Heavy fuzz guitar. Just good old rock.
Forbidden Love – Mysterious, beautiful—complex. This track offers layers of sound that make it rich with complimentary sounds that only Michael and Spider can create together. Moving from gentle, smooth guitar sounds to heavier sounds such as symbols and other tribal instruments).
Temple of the Moon — This track offers the talents of Chris Christensen as well the Michael and Spider, however the sound is very much in the latter’s style. It is very late on the island…. Only the spirits are awake and quietly dancing around the Temple….
The Monkey’s Paw – Daybreak is on the way again…the jungle begins to awaken…. Life starts to move again…. You can almost see things coming to live… slow, deliberate movement….
Strange and Beautiful — This track describes the entire journey you have just taken… the beauty of the surroundings, the intoxicating rhythms….the enlightened tale of those you have seen, heard…felt. Just let the music take you……A celebration song!!! *incredible bass and guitar sounds in this song…
Neptune – epilogue…. Neptune sends you on your way home again… feeling refreshed, renewed and ready for life’s challenges…..
John Berkowitz – TheCelebrityCafe.com
Michael and Spider’s Iridescent Garden album is a mystical assortment of transcending sounds suspended in space. It has a hinted aura about it that just overtakes you, lifting you up and letting you float away. It’s a very soothing assortment of tracks that whisks us away to an unfamiliar, enchanting paradise. Iridescent Garden has a longevity to it with its 20 plus tracks, so when Michael and Spiders’ deliverance is measured, it can be interpreted that the variety is an excellent blend, as no track repeats.
Iridescent Garden seems like a spiritual journey undertaken by our ears in the stream of our mind in hopes of self discovery and enlightenment. The ambiguous sense of adventure hangs by a thin thread hoping we hold on to continue the exploration. The music chimes in with a very mysterious quality to it, as, in some cases, it can haunt us with its unpredictable behavior. It’s a snake charming sound that serpentines with captivating vibes. Iridescent Garden possesses a cinematic and dream quality to it with its wild and exuberant takes.
Michael and Spider’s Iridescent Garden teases the mind, fueled by its meandering tones that break through a haze. It’s slow and tender that never drags on for too long as it’s blessed with a freshness that never fades. The tracks even have a certain multi-cultural quality to them with its encoded diversity. Iridescent Garden inspires you to find what you’re searching for inside of you. It is soothing and will allow you to slip into comfort with its inviting and adventurous chimes.
Piero Scaruffi – Author of “A History of Rock Music” – www.scaruffi.com
Smoke & Mirrors changed their name to Michael and Spider and released Iridescent Garden (2008), a collection of twenty charming nostalgic instrumentals that pay tribute to the exotica genre of the 1950s and 1960s (Ventures, Santo & Johnny, Les Baxter, Martin Denny, etc). The slow, languid pieces (often augmented with funky beats) belong more to the new-age spirit than to rock music. Notable exceptions are the lively White Diamonds and the boogie Davy Jones’ Locker (but not so much the over-the-top French Sailors). At the other extreme of the spectrum, Starfish in a Liquid Sky is abstract chamber music.
Southwest Blend Magazine 2008
Tucson-based musicians Michael Ely and Spider Taylor recently released their new CD ‘Iridescent Garden – Exotica Reinvented’, an enchanting album with beautiful and uncluttered instrumentals that coax your brain into a calm and peaceful place, where magical images take over and lead you on mystical journeys. Michael’s intriguing keyboard notes and samples delicately dance around Spider’s winding guitar leads, creating a fabulously rhythmic swirl of sounds and vibrant colors. No doubt about it, Michael and Spider are a creative force to be reckoned with.
Michael and Spider first began making music together over 30 years ago, and what they are doing currently could loosely be described as new age/ambient/exotica. From 1981-1985, they gained notoriety in Los Angeles fronting the post-punk band Red Wedding, and in 1987 they moved to Tucson and gave up music for 16 years. They re-emerged in 2003 under the moniker Smoke & Mirrors, and released 3 CDs of instrumental soundscapes, all of which received rave reviews. In 2006 they abandoned the name Smoke & Mirrors and are now, simply, Michael and Spider.
Their music has been used in a major motion picture (Step Up 2 The Street, released in February of this year), a documentary (Walking with Freedom, chronicling one man’s solo trek of the Appalachian Trail), and a couple of smaller, local documentaries.
Egbert Brouwer – Rate Your Music
The sub title of this album is “Exotica reinvented” and if you want to know what that means you should read the press release from Michael and Spider:
“Take equal parts of Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny. Add a dash of Yma Sumac, Link Wray, Santo & Johnny and The Ventures. Blend until smooth and lush, removing kitsch through strainer. Pour into tall tiki mug and garnish with a sweet red cherry and a paper umbrella. There you have it, a delicious musical cocktail of surreal and modern Exotica à la Michael and Spider”
The truth is that I don’t know any of these artists, but then again…..should I? Since Michael and Spider have reinvented the Exotica I’ve got all the Exotica I need!
With Iridescent Garden Michael and Spider have released their first release under their new moniker. There was already the album White Roses Painted Red but that was a reissue of White Roses Painted Red which was released under the moniker Smoke & Mirrors, so that does not count for a “real” Michael and Spider release. The opener “Orchids and Waterfalls” is for me the most exotic track on the entire cd it gives me the feeling of a nice hot, warm evening in my back yard. Another good track is “Volcano!” is one of the darker tracks on this release, it reminds me of a cowboy walking slowly through the desert during the sunset.
When I was going through all the titles I knew that I would like “Starfish in a Liquid Sky”; the intro is amazing, you’ll hear some lush guitar playing played backwards, it’s recorded in such a crafty way that you won’t notice it at first. This track is Ambient in it’s best form. With “Ouija Board” the Ambient flow just goes on and on…..
The title track is one of the best tracks for me, the combination of the great guitar playing and the magnificent sound effects are a real treat for the ears. With “The Flying Dutchman” the title is well chosen, the people who know the story will know what I mean, well done!
The musical range is far bigger than I’m used to from my friends from Oro Valey, they are always full of surprises. I’ve heard that their next project will be a David Bowie cover album. This means that Michael will start sing again many years after he and Spider have stopped with The Tracers, Hey Taxi! & Red Wedding.
Michael and Spider have a new cd coming out called Iridescent Garden which you can get as a cd or as an mp3 download (only $6 at CD Baby-follow the link). It’s a wonderful collection of exotica-themed, synth-driven instrumental tracks that are propelled to the next level of fast forward by Spider’s amazing guitar work. The music is simultaneously retro and contemporary, edgy and laid back, gothic and sunny. Michael’s tribal rhythms are the highway upon which Spider’s dreamy guitar travels at the aural speed of the Ventures, Pink Floyd, or Chet Atkins, depending on the track. This is the first work from these two California natives that boasts a uniquely identifiable Southern California sound. It’s a fantasy of the South Pacific by way of Los Angeles, and it’s awesome. Perfect for rum-fueled, exotic getaways to the beach, the pool or the bathtub.
Michael and Spider 101:
Met in the early 70s and fused at the hip for life. Formed a punk group called Hey Taxi!, then formed the seminal post-punk band Red Wedding. Michael was the only openly gay frontman of any of the L.A. bands at a time when homophobia in such circles wasn’t only acceptable, but expected. When AIDS hit, the precarious position of Red Wedding in the L.A. scene sort of tipped and the band called it quits, but not before producing an outstanding catalog of work, which, with Michael and Spider’s permission, I’d like to make available through streaming at a future date. Michael and Spider then formed a short-lived band called Glass, which made some amazing music that is extremely hard to get your hands on, even for moi, despite repeated requests (ahem).
After Glass, they retired temporarily and focused on buying a house, moving to Tucson, and settling into married middle age (not necessarily in that order). Started to make music again as Smoke and Mirrors, which morphed into Michael and Spider. Releases include Dieties, White Roses Painted Red, and The Perfume of Creosote. They recently sold a track to Touchstone pictures that appeared in the flick Step Up 2 the Streets. Iridescent Garden is their latest release.
Michael and Spider met in the Summer of 1971 and have been together ever since. The first time I ever noticed Michael was when I saw a picture of him fronting Red Wedding (the one back toward the top of this post) in a magazine called BAM (an 80s L.A. Weekly type mag, focused on music). I was so taken by his persona that I clipped the pic and taped it to the back of my bedroom door. I met Spider a couple years later while we were standing in line at a 7-11 in Long Beach. He chatted me up and my boyfriend and me went back to his place to hang out and meet his boyfriend. Well I took one look at Michael and recognized him from the pic I’d had taped to the back of my bedroom door. It was the beginning of an enduring friendship that has lasted longer than how old I was when I first met them (which was 19, if you’re into doing the math).
Michael and Spider have been great role models to me. Over the twenty some-odd years I’ve known them, they’ve had to deal with their fair share of life’s challenges. By the time I met them in 1985, they’d been together for nearly 15 years. From the outset of our first meeting it was a given that these two were together and always would be. In the 70s they were often derided by their peers for attempting to ape the heterosexual marriage model at at time when sexual liberation, free from any type of strings or commitment, was considered the ideal. As the founders of Hey Taxi! and Red Wedding, they were a part of L.A.’s explosive punk and post-punk club scene that spanned the late 70s – early 80s, on their own terms as an openly gay couple in a music community that was usually just barely able to cope with it. Michael and Spider have survived 5 Republican presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II) as a couple, and have lived to tell the story.
Since I am one of those people who has been hard wired for marriage since I’ve started having relationships, the presence of Michael and Spider in my life has been the one constant that helped be remain steadfast in my belief that I was not crazy for wanting to settle down with someone, that there was someone out there that was perfect for me and that we’d cross paths and recognize each other as soul mates. A lofty dream of a belief, I admit, and one that doesn’t always pay off, but it’s a belief that’s been driving me since I was a teenager. And when you spend your 20s and 30s living in Los Angeles, dating in Los Angeles, navigating the Hell that is the gay dating scene in Los Angeles, well…let’s just say it’s easy to lose hope early on.
Long-lasting same-sex relationships aren’t exactly encouraged in our society…hell, they’re barely just starting to be encouraged within our own community, now that everybody realizes there’s a market for it. At any rate, I owe a lot to Michael and Spider. I love listening to their music. And I’m proud to call them my friends.