Paw Tracks, the label set up by Animal Collective, has a surprisingly broad roster of artists. Alongside fellow travellers in cosmic americana like Tickley Feather and Ariel Pink the band have also signed the kitschy show-melodies of Dent May And His Magnificent Ukulele. Maybe the roster isn’t actually ‘broad’ but eye-brow raising additions like Dent May are outliers that push the core aesthetic in different directions. The latest band to join Paw Tracks are outliers in a different way.
“Prince Rama was whispered into the ears of Taraka Larson, Nimai Larson, and Michael Collins in the summer of 2007 by the clanging of prayer bells and goat-skin drums. They left the Hare Krishna farm where they were staying to go to art school and form a creative nucleus in Boston”. At first I doubted the veracity of this press bio however the surreal and overwhelming strangeness of “Shadow Temple”, the band’s fourth album and first on Paw Tracks, makes me think it is be closer to the truth than I imagined.
“Shadow Temple” is an eight song collection of Sanskrit chants, ritualistic drones, tribal percussion and drumming. It’s a psychedelic horror soundtrack made by Amon Düül and Yma Sumac in a voodoo jam showdown, produced by Animal Collective’s Avey Tare and Deakin (this last bit is true – it is actually produced by the AC pair and Rusty Santos).
The pair of opening tracks are spine-tinglingly scary: ‘Om Mane Padme Hum’ and ‘Om Namo Shivaya’ are made up of ominous incantations and howling suggestive of dark almost occult rituals. It is difficult to work out if the wordless chanting is ecstatic outpourings - or the voices of the tormented and the damned. But combined with the reverb-drenched rhythms and relentless drumming the sonic effect is shocking and intense. My initial reaction was what kind of chemicals were these people taking when they made this record? But according to an interview with Pitchfork, Prince Rama abstain from drugs. This only makes the record stranger and the influence of that Hare Krishna upbringing stronger and more sinister.
After the opening two songs “Thunderdrums’ is not as dramatic as the title suggests: instead it is a slower, sultry lope with ethereal recitations, over looped fuzzy guitar riff and cymbal crashes. The fourth track ‘Storm Worship’ is a quiet almost serene bridge into ‘Lightening Fossil’ which combines skittering drum clatter, whirling synths and the operatic vocal stylings of Diamanda Galas or Zola Jesus. The use of synths is even more prominent on the dark and pulsing ‘Satt Nam’ which ventures into synthwave territory recalling the dark dance-pop of Cold Cave.
“Shadow Temple” is a dark and eerie trip. Although ‘Mythras’ two-thirds of the way through the album's 35 minute duration feels like a re-tread of the opening track, elsewhere Prince Rama inject sufficient variation to move the listener through the different phases of this hallucinatory journey. The album’s singular intensity is a double-edged sword – undeniably powerful as the relentless brain pummelling is, its effect is best restricted to small doses. This is an esoteric cult that I want to visit occasionally as an interested observer rather than become a fully immersed devotee.
Prince Rama - Lightening Fossil by statemagazine
Prince Rama Shadow Temple [BUY]