Industry Professionals Critique Michael And Spider
(MICHAEL AND SPIDER - 2008)
Songs from Iridescent Garden are available on itunes here.
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…..
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.
Author of "A History of Rock Music"
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.
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.
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.
RED WEDDING: RED WEDDING 1981 -1985
(MICHAEL AND SPIDER: RED WEDDING CD 2007)
I've recently bowed to the impression, as naive as it may sound, that people consumed by one of those two titans of emotion, be it love or hate, are really not feeling much of anything at all. This is supposed to be a bit of fun, so I'll skirt the political examples (not literally, that might be too much fun) but I just don't feel a person who lives his life through actions of hate alone is suffering from a build-up of that base emotion; he suffers from a deficiency of love. The same goes for the type of person who cheapens a kiss by passing it to lovers and strangers alike; it's not so much that his cup overfloweth with love (possibly champagne) but that he hasn't felt enough of the other stuff to prioritize. As I've said, it's naive, but I've also yet to see proof that it's not true. They may disagree, but one cursory glance into their eyes on the icily elegant sleeve for Red Wedding: 1981-1985 has me believing that Michael Ely and James "Spider" Taylor are the head boys for this school of thought.
The opener, "Red Wedding March" barricades any hope I have of avoiding personal information as Michael's sincere introductory vocalization of the classic "Going to the Chapel" has so much more impact when we consider that his relationship with Spider is one of those rare, true testaments of modern love. It's difficult to place where and why, but at some point the melody becomes haunted, possessed by something that Michael could only tell us and I doubt he'd trust us this early on. We're treated to a different sort of impact when the stormtroopers in drag that Gary Numan tried to warn us about crash the ceremony, but without the firepower to prevent Spider from saying "I do" like a ventriloquist...and you won't need me to tell you that's no dummy in his hands. John Tagliavia's bass stomps that distinct brand of Californian cool all over "All Dressed Up" while Michael puts the champagne flute down to speak seriously with us. Marc O's keyboards are a kitsch middle-finger-twitch handshake, disorienting us enough to fall right under the Red Wedding veil.
And thus our world is rose tinted, but these roses are red and the thorns haven't been cut. No, this is perfectly natural. But as the songs pass by fluidly, cleansing us with round after round of love/hate cocktails, it's hard to ignore an almost science fiction quality to it. Is this our future, or an imagining of our present from the past that's hilariously inaccurate? Well, inaccurate except for the most important, sobering points. With a subtle nod to The Velvet Underground, the previously unreleased "Fiction Theater" finds Michael holding down a careening synth, establishing himself as the captain of this voyage with his confident, cooly commanding vocals, while Spider's precise, but compliant guitars easily cement him as first mate. But Spider goes maverick on the glam grinding of "Capsules of Love"...possibly the best Red Wedding song you've never heard. Michael's lyrics take a much more obvious futuristic leaning, but this doesn't damage the atmosphere, rather it makes the adventure that much more endearing. It's absolute glittering magic when Michael calmly takes two steps back to allow Spider to close out the song with a manic black hole of a guitar solo that seems to have swallowed Mars and its entire spider population, a couple of galaxies, and all of Los Angeles.
Marc O and Spider ricochet off of each other like malformed clones trying to meet each other halfway but instead creating a discordant odd display that can only be rationalized through Michael's sneered explanations resulting in the addictive and odd "Under the Veil." With our heads spinning and the vertigo showing no signs of reprieve, we're ambushed by one of Red Wedding's most violent juggernauts, the ultra-dynamic "Drums." With every descent of the keyboard and ascent of the guitars, we see Los Angeles rising and falling like a ballerina on speed. Michael tries to keep his head together, but the desperation in the melody seems to even have a cracking effect on him as he confesses, "The drums are pounding in my head." This is the sound of Burrough's Wild Boys in West Hollywood.
"Sleeping on the Airplane" relies on rhythmic fun as an anchor, as Spider's guitars are so refreshingly pure and aerial that they threaten to whisk us away over twilit cityscapes and into the pulsating stars. But under that same setting sun, "Somewhere" seems to approach the saying "It's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all" with skepticism. It's difficult to read Michael under his icy mask, a man who has fallen in so far with the actor that he may not even be able to tell us where reality and fantasy meet, but he seems to be sustaining on memory alone as Spider dares to murder the sun with his guitar.
Perhaps the track most exemplary of Red Wedding's malignant tendencies, "Think About It" has the elegant reserve of Bryan Ferry with a hissed dynamic resentment that doesn't quite cross into villainous terrain, but strongly alludes to it. For a split second, we meet eyes with the demons behind Michael's mask as he spits "pick up your face" to the punch of Brian Ford's drums.
Choosing to end the compilation with one of their most beautiful tracks, Red Wedding grace their catalogue with a rarity among rarities, the aqueous love song "Swimming." Marc O's synths and Spider's guitars radiate beneath the tumultuous surface of John's bass, like the phosphorescent glow of the Nautilus, while Michael plays Captain Nemo. But as he promises "we will dive into a whirlpool of hungry sharks and pin-ups" over bioluminescent romance that illuminates the darkest recesses of the sea, we catch a glimmer of something violent, like Maldoror making love to the shark, and we're brought back to that even solution of extreme adoration and contempt prevalent in Red Wedding's career.
Of course, this isn't the whole story, as the astute fan will notice the sad absence of "So We Make History", a cybernetic thrashing valentine to dystopias known only to exist through their 1982 appearance on New Wave Theatre but this is a fanatic for you: give me the world and I'll ask why the moon wasn't included. The fact that Red Wedding: 1981-1985 exists at all is a tangible miracle of the music world in itself.
Click HERE for Red Wedding Bio.
Click HERE for Red Wedding Stories.
THE PERFUME OF CREOSOTE, DESERT EXOTICA PART ONE
(MICHAEL AND SPIDER: SMOKE & MIRRORS CD 2003)
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 &hellips; three albums &hellips; in 2003, 2004, and 2005 respectively. All three deserve your attention.
When alt-rock guitarist Spider Taylor and keyboardist Michael Ely relocated from Los Angeles to Tucson, Arizona, their new digs caused them to evaluate their new music.
They dubbed their instrumental/environmental/ambient group "Smoke & Mirrors." Their first soundscapes collection, The Perfume of Creosote, is the direct influence of the Tucson, Arizona experience, as every desert flower and spell that has a name gets a musical and titular nod, a kind of "journey Through the Secret Life of Desert Plants." My favorite, "The Dance of the Scorpion," manages to approximate in ambient terms what it's like to step barefoot on a scorpion. No easy feat. Or feet.
Tripped out blissy (almost new agey) guitar driven electronics with an Eastern vibe that grooves along its own path. Perfect for chilling and cruising. My top picks: Surya, The Divine Sun, Inside Saguaros, Mirage, Rattlesnake, Adventures Of The Pack Rat, When The Devil Was A Little Boy, Thunderbirds, Monsoon, The Perfume Of Creosote, Sonoran Sunset, Ring Around The Moon, Night Blooming Cereus & As Heaven Falls From The Sky.
Hurrah! A concept album. "The Perfume of Creosote" is a journey, taking the listener on a daylong sojourn through the desert from emboldened sunrise (Surya, The Divine Sun) to the dreamlike, UFO-infused night sky (As Heaven Falls from the Sky). So far, so hippy. But pay attention at the back, for this is absolutely compelling.
From the opening "Surya, The Divine Sun" (named after the Hindu sun god) through the astonishing "Mirage" (which remarkably sounds like one, which makes no sense until you listen to it) to "Riparian Oasis" with its beautiful guitar solo to the all too brief (but enthralling) "Dance of the Scorpions", this is an outstanding release.
Taking aspects of ambience, world music, psychedelia and jazz, the artists concerned, Michael Ely and Spider Taylor, have produced a lush and exotic beast of an album, inspiring in its beauty and wonder. There are twenty three stages to their journey, all of which combine to produce an elongated yet enigmatic and melodic eighty minutes masterpiece. Particularly noteworthy are the percussive elements, which fuse everything together, giving you something to hold on to, as the desert heat takes its toll. Look to "Adventures of a Packrat" for a perfect example of the fusing together of disparate sounds.
Space rock aficionados will find much to love here, especially towards the latter stages of the journey, culminating in the resplendent "As Heaven Falls From The Sky". It could have been a bit of a mess, what with tribal percussion, prog rock guitars, trip-hop beats and ambient soundscapes, but you'll be hard pushed to find a better fusion experiment.
Now it's not often that I'm flummoxed, but this thing's got me beaten--what on earth category do you put it in? Is it prog-rock--or psychedelic--or ambient--or contemporary--or what? It's got all those and more across a staggering twenty-three tracks over 78 minutes of instrumental music. Bearing in mind I don't have the time to do a track-by-track breakdown, it's then very difficult to describe it as a whole. First off, it's rhythmic throughout, with chunky drums and deep bass that you'd find on something resembling a mix of Can, Banco de Gaia & early Ozrics. Then there's the melodies-- lots and lots of layers of synths, keyboards and guitars, all presented in easily digestible chunks that are incredibly addictive, tunes like prog, atmospheres like ambience, powerful like Krautrock and heady like psychedelia--yet all so clean and full-sounding in terms of arrangements and production. I have to say that I loved every minute of it, but who out there is going to buy it without a great leap of faith in my--and others--review, I really couldn't say. Something so different shouldn't be this good--but it is.
Every day, I have a different tune stuck in my head. Few things in life give me greater joy than discovering a musical gem that I find myself wanting to listen to over and over again. The Perfume of Creosote is such a gem. Each track has a definite hook. The variety keeps the album interesting, and the images it invokes are as vivid as the accompanying soundtrack. Yet, the soundscapes do not hit you over the head as much as the track titles might suggest. For example, I never would have guessed the dreamy, hypnotic, earworm-inducing "Tarantulas" was inspired by large furry arachnids, yet now that I know, I can easily envision the gentle creatures methodically combing the desert at twilight. The various tracks are lush with plenty of exotic percussion (a personal favorite of mine) yet not so overpowering as to leave nothing to the imagination. There is nothing deceptive about Smoke & Mirrors. These guys have nothing up their sleeves. They know exactly what they are doing, and it is brilliant.
This CD is not what its promotional material promises. It is actually much better. It is described as a journey through the desert, with a combination of "ambience, world music, alternative rock, lounge music, music for film, and hints of psychedelic and jazz." With its strong percussive base, it is too loud to be a trip through the desert. It is more like a film score for an exotic jungle or South Seas island location.
You might fear that the combination of all the music mentioned above would be chaotic, or just sound like doodling. But Michael Ely and Spider Taylor, who take the nom de plume Smoke & Mirrors, have been involved in music for a long time, and it shows in their careful construction and excellent production. These twenty three pieces feature guitar or keyboards over varied beats. The melodies are quite beautiful throughout, which is impressive for a CD that is eighty minutes long.
The beats are all organic sounding, with a variety of percussion featuring many types of hand drums. They are a bit jarring at first compared to the stateliness of the melodies. After your ears adjust to them, however, the beats are very complimentary and give the music a sense of motion.
This CD does take you on a journey. Each track offers a different complex rhythm, and each tune expresses a different mood. Many pieces are ethereal and some convey a sense of mystery. Some have a sense of foreboding, while others bring a feeling of peace. Smoke and mirrors implies that someone is trying to fool you. Any tricks used here, though, are worth listening to.
East meets southwest in a vibrant world-jazz-rock-ethno-ambient fusion[whew]. This is definitely a unique recording blending many different genres together. In the first track "Surya, The Divine Sun" for example, didgeridoo, electric guitar, drumkit, percussion and vibes join forces in a loping, strutting, rhythm across the desert floor, with an eastern sounding melody. There are 23 tracks on this disc that blend together expertly. Most tracks feature some type of drumkit, keyboard, percussion, and guitar, with desert textures. Some other highlights: "Mirage"-dreamy, echoing guitar with percussion and cymbals. "Rattlesnake"-a perky electro strut with spaghetti western guitar. "Adventures Of A Packrat"-nice piano melody with percussion, synth, electric bass and drumkit. "Monsoon"-juicy bass and guitar work in a nice groove over a swaggering rhythm. "Roadrunner"-a rapid fire synth, nice guitar and a sturdy rhythm propel the listener down the highway. You can see the heat rising off the sand and feel the desert wind. This list could go on and on. Pretty much every song on this disc is a highlight. There are enough killer grooves and ideas packed in here for three or four albums, and the quality of musicianship is excellent! Not exactly ambient, but good music is good music! Fans of fusion music will love this. If you are looking for a different sort of musical adventure this is a sonic vacation you may not want to come back from. Pack your bags and go away for the weekend.
David J. Opdyke,
A 23-track motherlode awaits in the ear-travelogue of The Perfume of Creosote: Desert Exotica Part 1. Along the way, be entertained by the aural feats Smoke & Mirrors who trick your ears with guitars, bass, keys, beats and more.
On thump-rippling beats, Tarantulas sway through a softly psychedelic world of relaxed rocktronic visions, topped by skyswirling guitars and synths. Lighter rhythms steer Mirage through a flow of tenderly twisted six-strings, followed by the entrancing instrumental groove of Rattlesnake and its western-ish twangs and spy-theme keys.
Sassy beats and sweetly churning rays dance through pert Ocotillo precede the moodier soundtrack-like Petroglyphs and Bones. Dreamy symphonic streams melt under the insistent thuds of Monsoon; the steady tattoo is ensnared in meandering solos and recurrences of the intro theme. From the Riparian Oasis, radiant riffage spirals skyward, powered by drums and drifts.
Weirdly grumbling subcurrents crawl beneath the guitar-glow of Turquoise and Copper. Odd shimmers are exploded by jangles and static when Dance of the Scorpions makes its brief, enigmatic appearance. The curtain drops in As Heaven Falls From The Sky; spaced-out blippery twinkles in synth-borne beatlessness, draped in orchestral sweeps.
Sometimes dipping into a little tasty cheesiness, The Perfume of Creosote: Desert Exotica Part 1 is rather more straightforwardly "musical" than much of my listening diet, though an incorrigibly playful outing. These "normal" soundsets are inventively tweaked to form new electronic-rock formations... a whole 78.5 minutes worth (!), from Spider Taylor and Michael Ely of Smoke & Mirrors. Tunefulness served up with energy and style. B+
"Ambient world music" would be the closest label to pin on this release by Smoke & Mirrors. But describing the general genre of 23 tracks isn't an easy task. This richly layered instrumental "desert soundtrack" can be loosely compared to Euphoria or Deep Forest, but because of rhythm-heavy beats and uptempo trip-hop sounds, a comparison to Moby is in order. Throw in some swirling psychedelic trance sounds, some tribal beats, and some sampled desert noises (like birds and wind), and you've got yourself an aural journey through the Sonoran Desert.
Concept albums don’t always work. This concept album does work. With an intent on desert journey via soundscape and experimental ambient music, Smoke & Mirrors takes the bull by the horns and as soon as the first track starts to seep its way from the speakers to your ears to your brain your synapses will start firing and you’re instantly transported to the Arizona desert. Blantantly dream-like, “The Perfume of Creosote” mixes styles ranging from adult contemporary to jazz to lounge to film music to world and even alternative rock for an ambient conceptual desert journey based around the lush Sonoran desert. I find this album compelling, breathtaking, and moving. Hopefully you will too.
Here, a Tucson-based duo present a rich and varied collection of instrumental soundtracks that, like the title implies, set a mood of expansive landscapes and faraway terrain. SMOKE & MIRRORS somehow hit just about all the bases here--from the big tribal percussion with prog-rock style guitars of the first track to moody trip-hop style beats, to ambient rock that wouldn't be too out of place on a classic 4AD release.
In-between, you'll find accents of jazz, dance, psychedelia, and even lounge music. 'The Perfume Of Creosote' is a lengthy (23-track, 79-minute) set of modern exotica that takes hints from Les Baxter and Martin Denny, but runs with it into the desert. But this is not the lonely, desolate desert sounds of STEVE ROACH or other sonic magicians. In contrast, this is more like the sound of a cool oasis--lush and tropical, refreshing and relaxing, melodic and upbeat.
A uniquely individual and lively set of tunes that work on a variety of levels, and should appeal to a wide array of interests.
This CD offers 78 minutes of energized electronic music.
While sultry electronics are present in this music, versatile percussion and astral guitar provide an affluent backbone to the aridly evocative melodies. These percussives range from serpentine bongos to full drumkit to steel rhythms, providing engaging tempos to the cosmic harmonies. The velocity of the beats are unfrenzied, but far from languid, conveying considerable verve with their intricate patterns.
The guitar is equally adaptable, resounding one moment with wailing interstellar sensibilities, crooning the next with tender chords that border on romantic expressions. Grand sustains spiral into majestic heavens, caressing each distantly twinkling star with their emphatic cries; while soft rich outdoor flair that mixes a dust bowl lament with a hint of tribal predilection.
Delicate piano and electronic keyboards filter through the mix like rare waterways, saturating the music with their precious moisture. There are even a few orchestral touches that lend the flow even greater nobility.
Use of digeridoo and sandy flutes enhance the tuneage, reinforcing the desert motif while injecting an atmospheric edge that elevates the audience to lofty cloudbanks of seductive disposition.
The numerous tracks are often short, but not too brief that each piece sounds truncated or rushed. These dreamy compositions brim with pleasant sentiments that include subtle but infectious riffs intended to uplift and entertain.
Regarding "When the Devil was a Little Boy" from their debut album The Perfume of Creosote: Desert Exotica Part 1, Smoke & Mirrors say: "We wanted to create the sounds of a dust devil, a mischievous desert windstorm in which all hell breaks loose." It's a three and a half minute dervish that sweeps across the hard-pack, guitars snarling like a "grit in the lines" version of Dick Dale. "When the Devil was a Little Boy" is followed by "Ocotillo." Now, I have no idea what an Ocotillo looks like, but -- based on the sweet samba sound of the track--I'm guessing it must be some sort of exotic desert flower which thrives in those brief moments when the rains come.
Ex-pats of the Los Angeles underground rock scene, Michael Ely and Spider Taylor got the hell out of the dust bowl of urban blight and went into the desert where they, unexpectedly, fell in love with the natural landscapes surrounding Tucson, Arizona. The Perfume of Creosote: Desert Exotica Part 1 captures their affection for the desert through a cinematic blending of lounge, cinematic landscapes, psychedelia, jazz, ambient music, rock and world music. Each of the 23 tracks is a miniature mood piece, a different slice of the desert set to music.
Following the sprightly "Ocotillo," Ely and Taylor wander into the shadows of the red rocks for "Petroglyphs and Bones," a spooky interlude with the ancient fossils of forgotten species. Instead of going the creepy route for "Tarantulas," the duo decide to craft an elemental piece which focuses more on the spider's place in the desert--a necessary part of the larger ecosystem and not just a freaky eight-legged monster. "Monsoon" chases the quick thunderheads which gather in an instant, flash flood a region, and move on. In the aftermath of the storm, the sky clears and the water glistens on every surface like diamonds caught in the stone. "Ring Around the Moon" captures the stillness of the clear, desert night when the light from the moon is so bright that it reflects back on itself creating the silver ring in the sky. It's a mysterious empty sky, filled with haunted melodies that seem to drift independently of any breeze. "Sonoran Sunset" captures the edge of the horizon as it bleeds with rich color. The song is filled with overlapping synth melodies, spreading rhythms which cover you like warm butter. They float down over you, gently and delicately taking you to that moment when the sky turns dark blue and then black.
The spirit of Les Baxter and Martin Denny move through the music of Smoke & Mirrors, caught up in the ephemeral thermals which ride over the hot desert landscapes. I'm a big fan of desert soundtracks and will happily point anyone who asks towards A Small Good Thing's Slim Westerns, Dead Hollywood Stars' Gone West, and Scenic's Incident at Cima. However, none of these three capture the rich colors of the desert. We think of deserts as endless wastelands of sand and rock with only three tints of brown to go between them. What we don't really remember is the vivid colors which spring up in the desert at a moment's notice. Ely and Taylor transport the delicious lushness of tropical exotica into the Sonoran Desert. The Perfume of Creosote: Desert Exotica Part 1 is a heady day-long adventure. I've got four records that will travel with me now when I go south for the winter.
WHITE ROSES PAINTED RED
(MICHAEL AND SPIDER: SMOKE & MIRRORS CD 2005 / reissue 2007)
With Smoke & Mirrors latest CD White Roses Painted Red you are guaranteed that you'll hear some kind of music that you've never heard before. Michael & Spider have come from a long way with their previous projects in the 80s when they made totally different kind of music. This CD came with a package of incense and some play characters from Alice in Wonderland...that was quite a surprise! I could smell the incense even before I opened the package, so my first encounters with Smoke & Mirrors was more than positive, and the listening hasn't even started yet. With song lengths going from 1'07" to 5'36" there's just enough space on the disc to contain 23 (!) tracks that tell the musical interpretation of "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland". The music could be filed under ambient, but for me it's more than that. It's kind of strange but I can't put my finger on it when it comes to define the music.
Michael & Spider call their music soundscapes but that doesn't measure up with what I would call it. For me soundscapes are a collage of sounds and spheres that fill up the "gaps" that have been left by the other musicians, this is so much more. At some points the music is spooky, then it goes from chaotic to smooth and tender and vice versa, but it's always fresh and surprising. Artists that popped into my head were Moby, Malcolm McLaren & Brian Eno, among others. Some highlights on the CD are for me the track "Pool of Tears", which has some great guitar playing on the background. "Wonderland" is a guitar oriented track, with some modest guitar playing backed up with fabulous keyboard collages. The title track is another piece of art maneuvers in the capacity of "Pool of Tears" and "Wonderland". There are also some more up tempo tracks on this release that I like: "Caccus Race" and "The Fish Footman and the Frog Footman", it's a pity that they both belong to the cluster of shorter tracks. The artwork that comes with this CD has been made by little girls between the age of three and eight years old. It's simple but efficacious.
Ostensibly based on the story of Lewis Carroll's "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland", White Roses Painted Red is a collection of instrumental vignettes of post-Brian Eno electronic-pop. However, the stylistic range has broadened again compared with the previous album. Introduced by a sample of a vintage classical record, Alice is a makeshift Mozart-ian movement, with synthesized strings and minuet-ing piano, set to the tempo of a drum machine. The White Rabbit is a collage of field recordings of rural animals, a distorted music-box and a ticking clock. Falling Into the Underground is a psychedelic fantasy (wavering guitar tones, eerie drones, orchestral surges, gongs). The Duchess has a simple melody that has subjected to all sorts of mutation over a steady syncopated beat. The continuous mutation is also the underlying principle of exotic dances such as The Cheshire Cat. The contrast in the sequencing can be quite striking, following a Michael Nyman-esque string crescendo with a piece of kitsch muzak. Several dreamy guitar-driven melodic excursions such as The Smoky Caterpillar (a new age update of Duan Eddy or of the Ventures) alternate with the more futuristic pieces. The whole displays the naive, pastoral quality of Mike Oldfield's suites. This is the ultimate soundtrack to Alice's surreal adventures. The only drawback is the rhythm machine, that often detracts rather than adding to the magic of the project. Only in a handful of the tracks are the rhythms truly important (notably The Mad Tea Party, for broken kitchenware, African polyrhythms, gamelan-like metallic percussion, distorted guitar melody, and growing cacophony a la Fleetwood Mac's Tusk).
Livid Looking Glass Webzine
When I got the CD in my hands for the first time I noticed two things: It was pink with something looking like a child's draw on the back cover and second, the quote "Based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll." I was curious and excited because sometimes I miss the naivety of the childhood years and I like the way is expressed sometimes through specific artists. The two gentlemen of Smoke & Mirrors in their third release had a difficult mission to accomplish because a concept album based on a notorious book is not the easiest thing on earth. The final outcome was this dreamy, beautiful album, a fairy tale in stereo. It's mostly (except the track "We're All Mad Here") instrumental and a mix between ambient, film music, new age etc. This contrast between the different soundscapes is reminding me of Mike Oldfield (that's definitely a compliment!) but more jazz influenced and less folk. The only problem is that sometimes the beautiful guitar themes are "hidden" behind tons of synth sounds. Also the change of rhythms and the sound of percussion themselves is a bit strange, distracting the listener from the main dish. But these are minor details because the atmosphere is enchanting, inviting each and every one of us, adult or not into a magic land.
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.
Lastly, you have "White Roses Painted Red," which has vocals and the most theatrical thread, the story of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It's surreal and subtle. But no walrus song. I checked.
Andy Garibaldi, Dead Earnest
Oh Lord—if this band gets any more challenging in terms of reviews, things are gonna get mighty tough round here. You see, after a wickedly delicious psych debut followed by a gloriously full double CD we now get a new studio CD with a staggering 23 tracks over an equally mind-blowing seventy nine minute running time, and track times between just over one and five minutes long.
Even more mind-blowing for a reviewer is that each of the tracks are individual—nothing crosses over or flows into one another. In anyone else's hands, this could be a recipe for disaster, but in the musical hands of Michael Ely & Spider Taylor, the result is astounding. So, what's it sound like? How long have you got? You could fill a small exercise book with a track by track review, but suffice to say the majority of the work is done on synths, keyboards, guitars, bass and percussion, the band calling them soundscapes, but in reality, so much more. As much progressive as electronic, the tracks are charting a course that takes in so many influences but none of them so direct you can point and say "Oh, that sounds like..."—a perfect illustration of the originality of thought and composition that's gone behind this. Sounding at times like a prog-rock answer to In The Nursery with many of the themes and melodies taking on that familiar "accessible" mode and being suitably expansive, the overall effect is positively filmic and you could imagine a lot of the music here slotting rather well into TV broadcasts and films, everything from documentaries on the life of the fruit bat to scary movies. With so much to take in, I can say that it is a mix of richly textured symphonic music with an overriding influence from prog-rock along the way. But there's not a track here that's less than engaging, some of the shorter tracks belying their length by sounding so deep as the plethora of synths, strings and guitars weave and soar, Much of it is very beautiful but in a wholly substantial, cohesive way, while some of it is dark, some of it horizon-stretching, bits of it more minimal and all points in between. But it "sounds" like no one else despite being so easily digestible and inventive. I found it absolutely riveting and one to play often as new things are revealed with every play. A work of great imagination, something quite different and enjoyable, and you have to take your hat off to the guys so confident that they recorded it and put it out.
Weighing in at 75-plus minutes, "White Roses Painted Red" is synth-duo Michael Ely and Spider Taylor's well-thought musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," demonstrated through a full spectrum of emotive bytes, classical tinkering and expressionist rock. The quality is a cut or two above B-movie soundtrack, waxed and buffed just enough to maintain its friendliness. Taking things from the top, the understated Mozart-march "Alice (Theme Song)" suggests pomp, privilege and hints of playfulness until our heroine drops through the looking glass ("Falling Into the Underground") accompanied by kaleidoscopic clock-ticks, 12-string and found psychedelics. "Pool of Tears" adds industrial-prog rhetoric to the mix, and so on—anything goes in this fiercely innovative study.
Once again Smoke & Mirrors manages to fill up every square millimeter of a CD with imaginative instrumental storytelling, while still allowing the listener plenty of room to interpret the music in his or her own way. "White Roses Painted Red" is my third acquisition from this band that continues to innovate complex, ear-catching, addictive melodies. Michael and Spider have a unique sound that is instantly recognizable, which provides a comfortable consistency across their works. I know from the very first listen, that I am going to enjoy what I hear for the next 79 minutes.
Although "The Perfume of Creosote: Desert Exotica Part 1" remains my favorite album (largely for sentimental reasons), WRPR is a close second. This journey is a little more laid back, as if it were the soundtrack to a barbiturate-induced dream. Even the more manic tracks such as "Caucus Race "and "The Mad Tea Party" exhibit noticeable restraint that keep the album on an even keel.
And as with all S&M albums, the theme is never portrayed in such a heavy-handed manner as to lock the listener into a specific interpretation. Quite the contrary, on each successive listen, I find myself traveling to destinations far more interesting that anything Lewis Carroll ever dreamed up.
Five out of five stars, but from S&M I would expect nothing less.
Interesting pseudo New Age ambience greets the ear almost immediately to sedate the listener. Clandestinely surrounding a theme of Alice in Wonderland, "White Roses Painted Red" explores space and atmosphere in music like many other discs have attempted but failed at. I've enjoyed other Smoke & Mirrors releases as they can attest to but this may be my favorite yet. Its spacey atmospheres that travel distances that seem like light years to reach your inner ear canal are just downright and simply stated: special. I don't know that I could imagine the soundtrack to a dream better.
Musicianship & Songwriting — 10 out of 10
Smoke & Mirrors have the uncanny ability to transport their listeners to another dimension with their layered sounds and haunting melodies. Their previous works, The Perfume of Creosote: Desert Exotica Part 1 and Deities are works of art created from things that inspired them. Unlike Perfume and Deities Michael Ely and Spider Taylor have dared to create a soundscape based on a concrete form. I say concrete because not only is this disc based on a specific story, but, it is based on a specific CLASSIC story that puts very specific characters in your mind! The courage to create such a disc could be seen as being daring, adventurous—pioneering; or it could seem incredibly arrogant to think one could create such a thing! Of course, it is the former, NOT the latter that is the case with Smoke & Mirrors.
White Roses Painted Red is a musical soundscape masterpiece. This disc not only has intriguing melodic moments; the sound effects speak for each character and scene so vividly, that the title of the disc even seems to be a metaphor for their daring outward take on the classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Between tea cups being ‘klinked’ with spoons and dishes breaking (The Mad Tea Party) to a crying baby (The Duchess) to the chiming of the clock (The White Rabbit) you can ‘see’ different portions of the story as you listen. The music that backs up the effects (or the effects are the back up---hard to tell because they all form so tightly together) is completely wonderful. Michael's symphonies of layered keystrokes and Spider's ever sensual guitar riffs just give such depth to the project that it truly is difficult to put into words. I will make one lame attempt to draw a word picture and then I'll move on to the other categories.
On (The Cheshire Cat) there is a cat meowing in the beginning—which almost gives you the impression that the song is going to be pure childish unstructured sound, and then about 30 seconds into the song, this retro, adult melody comes out that is completely complex and just a treat to hear. Like Mr. Lewis Carroll's characters, there is a lot more behind that cat's big grin than he lets on! Superb!
Sound Quality/Professionalism — 10 out of 10
Excellent sound quality and very professional. It is hard to believe the quality that a home studio can have. I only mention that because I KNOW it came from a home studio. When I put the tracks of this disc in with several other discs of mine—it fit in just perfectly.
Favorite Tracks The Smoking Caterpillar—extremely moving track!!
•The Cheshire Cat
•The Queen of Hearts
•Standout Track – We're All Mad Here
Michael Ely has added vocals to this track. First time in years he has done that and I must say it's a shame it hasn't been sooner! His classic David Bowie-ish style, his melancholy sound is just wonderful! Don't let it be years before you do this again, Michael!
Overall Rating — 10 out of 10
Lewis Carroll's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been a story that has bewitched me since I was a young girl and then later my children as well. The story isn't your typical run of the mill fairy tale, it has complex characters, dark undertones and is filled with metaphors and hidden meanings for adults to enjoy as well. The tale had parts that scared me and humored me…and ultimately just captured my heart. Disney's take on the story was fluffy and light (imagine that!) and TV had a cheesy 4 hour mini series that came out in the 80s or 90s, which I still have on VHS somewhere, that my kids wore out when they were young. I have to say that I have never viewed a version of the story that captures the ‘essencersquo; of Mr. Carroll's classic. However, my ears have now heard music that HAS.
These guys continue to challenge themselves (and their listeners) to reach beyond their ideas and preconceived notions and have somehow convinced me yet again to travel with them to a distant place. How do they do it? How do they take a theme and create completely different projects, but still have a sound that is THEIR OWN? I am not sure how it happens…maybe there is a magic potion that they swallow…maybe it's magic cake…or maybe they just truly believe that they can create a world with their music all their own—and then, in doing so, can take us by the hand through the glass to see things from a different perspective…from the other side. Don't let fear of the unknown keep you from collecting this duo's incredibly special music. In fact, I challenge you—if you haven't yet tried a ‘picture portrait’ in sound, try it. Take the bottle that says, ‘Drink Me’ and don't be afraid. Just wait and see where it takes you. You'll never know what incredible characters and scenery you might meet along the way!
(MICHAEL AND SPIDER: RED WEDDING EP 1984)
From the late 70s to mid 80s Los Angeles was the place to be if you hoped to explore untrodden heights of creativity in music. From punk to new wave to deathrock and beyond, LA cracked boundaries and encouraged experimentation, ultimately allowing countless new breeds of musicians to emerge and thrive.
Formed in 1981, Red Wedding was far ahead of the pack in terms of both originality and technical skill. With a weighty nod to psychedelia and an enthusiastic thumbs-up to prog, the band craftily melded fanciful guitar hooks with sci-fi electronics and danceable beats to create their signature sound of spooky, spaced-out postpunk. “Nails”, the band’s second and final release, was praised by music fans and media press alike for its multifarious form; from the dark and groovy opening track “Goddess No More” to the synthesized chirps and bleeps of “Twist” (anyone ever heard of the band Reseau d'Ombres?) and the somber minimalism of the romantic “Somewhere”, this 6-song EP is sure to have you up and dancing, or at least bobbing your head, from beginning to end. Highly recommended for those curious to hear a Chrome-molested Flock Of Seagulls… if that makes any sense at all.
“…Record producer Kim Fowley approached the band about managing them. While the members were flattered, Fowley wanted too much artistic control and the band turned him down.”
"L.A. Bowie-damage heroes Red Wedding have a new EP, and it's a giant step forward for them. Horny idol / guitar wiz Spider Taylor takes over this time to great effect, mixing it in with Marc O's head-spinning synthesizer commotion and some tough bass-drum rhythms. The songs on "Nails" come in a New Wave style, with quasi-metal rifferama sneaking in on "Goddess No More" and a punkerama velocity goose called "Twist." Those cuts and "Satan in Cologne" leap out at the dance club crowd with precision. "Bernardo" is the fantastic Ely poetry blitz, most unusual in the mixed-up vocals near the end, and overall a fine rendition of one of Red Wedding's older, gay-themed numbers. "
In Touch Magazine
"Red Wedding's new EP is here at last and it's gooooood! In case you've never heard them, Red Wedding is sort of psychedelic, sort of dancey, sort of mystical, sort of bat cavish, sort of.....well, get the record and figure it out for yourself. Especially recommended is "Goddess No More" and "Under the Veil." Send this record to David Bowie immediately, and let's hope we don't have to wait for two years to get the next one."
(MICHAEL AND SPIDER: SMOKE & MIRRORS CD 2004)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (Todd Zachritz)
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...
UP AND DOWN THE AISLE
(MICHAEL AND SPIDER: RED WEDDING EP 1982)
Red Wedding, a well-established, unclassifiable band has brought forth a record ["Up and Down the Aisle" ]. From the cover art to the complex production of the music inside, the project is afire with style and intensity. It's one of the first truly original records to come out of Los Angeles in quite a while. The material is uncommonly strong, extremely well-produced and highly recommended.
"Southern California now plays host to an entire bevy of post punk bands which rival anything that's coming out of England at the moment. Red Wedding is one of the best of the bunch. Combining an absurdist's eye view with a funky rhythm section on their record "Up and Down the Aisle," this band plays music which is reminiscent of Devo one minute and Psychedelic Furs the next. "Sleeping on the Airplane" could be a big dance club hit."