It’s been a rough decade for casual space enthusiasts. Cancelled moon trips, slashed budgets, mismanaged projects, still no manned-missions to Mars—the list of indignities goes on. Listening to A World Out Of Time, the latest album from Portland psych outfit Eternal Tapestry, you get the feeling these guys know your pain. Brothers Jed and Nicholas Bindeman, the molten core of the band, create the type of mind-expanding space-rock that hasn’t exactly been in vogue since the Apollo program closed its doors in 1972. But in an era when the most exciting news out of NASA comes from the Mars Rover Twitter account, these dudes are a welcome, necessary throwback.
Instead of railing against the increasingly Earth-bound plans of the space program, the group has simply built its own alternate reality, one built around blues-rock stomp, interstellar noodling, bits of organ playing and sci-fi allusions. After the languid, meditative swirl of 2011’s Beyond The 4th Door, which saw the band make the jump from cassette releases and Not Not Fun to Chicago’s Thrill Jockey label, and this year’s live-show-aping Dawn In 2 Dimensions, the group has returned to doing what it does best: jamming. I mean that in the most literal sense. Where many of the band’s previous releases were culled from hours and hours of collected material, A World Out Of Time was recorded as a whole, a distinction that has some subtle effects on the album’s sequencing and pacing without diminishing the elements of collage.
Kicking off with the shape-shifting “When I Was In Your Mind,” a 12-minute guitar squall odyssey anchored by the steadfast thump of drummer Jed Bindeman, the album begins in a state of frantic Can-like exuberance, Krautrock’s steely conceptual backbone turning to gooey, Flubber-like substance. However, after that spirited opening salvo, the album’s tracks become increasingly shorter, making up for what they lack in length by packing in an abundance of ideas. Even a transitional piece like “Planetoid 127” chirps and whirs like someone spilled a pot of coffee all over a space cruiser’s motherboard and ends with the noir-ish, rain-soaked footsteps of a doomed figure. The chilling, bummed-out Neil Young strumming of “The Weird Stone” slowly morphs into a roaring crescendo before fading into a solid minute of glittering ambient crickets.
Then, ’cause these guys are playful goofs at heart, they try to kick your skull (or your space helmet) in with the Seals And Crofts riff-jacking death knell crunch of “Apocalypse Troll.” But even that doesn’t stay in one mode for long, ending with the beautiful pitter-patter of raindrops, which carry over into the Hawkwind-esque firebombing of “When Gravity Falls.” Though it’s tempting to file Eternal Tapestry under ambient or at least pleasant background listening—moments in the group’s back catalog certainly fit that description, with its consistent emphasis on texture, drone and repetition—its work demands a ready, attentive ear. Oddly enough, the sole part of the record that really glides by on ambiance and doesn’t leave a mark is the plaintive folk ballad “Sand Into Rain,” the only song with vocals and discernible lyrics. It just feels unnecessary.
Also, the band does such a clever job of building a little world of reference and allusion, that lyrics would spoil the fun of connecting the cultural dots. A World Out Of Time draws its evocative title from writer Larry Niven’s science-fiction novel about a man suffering from incurable cancer who has himself cryogenically frozen in 1970 and wakes up 2190, hoping to find a cure. Given the band’s obvious affinity for the psychedelic music of the ’60s and ’70s, you can see why the idea would have such an appeal. Lucky for us, they woke up in 2012.