Rice Cultivation Society – “Sky Burial”

Cameron Barham surprises everyone with a 9 out of 10 for Rice Cultivation Society’s “Sky Burial.” Read up!

Cameron Barham

9
out of 10

Rice Cultivation Society
Sky Burial
January 15, 2013
Mecca Lecca

Q: What exactly is a “sky burial”?

A: The Tibetan Buddhist practice of offering the emptied human vessel to the elements, particularly predatory birds, on mountaintops given the limited ability to dig adequate graves and the belief that death is an escape from the limited confines of flesh.

Some artists so bend and push the boundaries of music that it threatens to collapse into a meaningless cacophony and yet they somehow manage to snatch it back from the edge of the abyss and put it on brilliant display for all to enjoy. This is the gift and genius of Rice Cultivation Society on Sky Burial, the latest release from Long Islanders Derek Smith (guitar and vocals), Nick Lee (guitars), Joe Sanders (bass), and John Carbone (drums). It is a stunning mix of ‘90’s era alternative a-la early Pavement (most evident on “Honey Hide”), experimental folk a-la Elliot Smith and Owen on a number of tracks, jazz and blues sensibilities which permeate the record in terms of percussion, time signatures, and additional electronic and string elements that would be at home on Jack DeJohnette’s Parallel Realities, and a dash of Daniel Johnston oddity for good measure (most pronounced in “Fading Stars” as Smith repeats “Don’t be afraid of your desires…”). Sky Burial is meticulously well-crafted which beckons the listener to return again and again to the varied elements and layers present throughout each track.

The album opens with the stunning “King Midas” in which Smith rues over plucked guitar and building concentric layers of sound: “Winter taunts me, Hit me under crown, Caught thee with my army down.” “You Oughtta Don’t Know” brilliantly combines progressing sheets of musical elements clinging to piano tinkling and bass lines before collapsing into almost shrill bending of guitar notes and what feels like a slowing heart beat. The tension ebbs softly into “Sky Burial Part 2 (Purple Balloons for Noam Chomsky)” as Smith gently sings: “If it all goes away, like purple balloons, put your head on my shoulder, we’ll get there soon.” The second half of the album begins with “Bears Staring at the Universe,” an instrumental that would make the late Michael Hedges proud. “Church of Love” provides an advancing bass line looped in with various percussive and electronic elements before being overtaken by processed and fuzzed out electric guitar and interspersed xylophone which evidence the amazing ability of Rice Cultivation Society to combine so many distinct elements into one listenable whole. The album closes with less complexity in “Calypso,” an homage to the nymph of Greek mythology famous for holding Odysseus hostage with her musical ability, and “Fading Stars” in which Smith advises, “Your weary head, it spins the wheels of fading stars, just let them fall apart, let your rabbit run far, don’t be afraid of fading stars.”

Rice Cultivation Society, a nod to the need for many people to use their specific gifts to preserve a community sustained by rice, has combined their efforts to create an amazing work that is paradoxically simple and complex while maintaining unity and coherence over the whole. This is a unique gift that should not be missed. “Sky Burial” will show up in a number of year-end best of 2013 lists.

-Cameron Barham, August 19, 2013