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Centrum, "För Meditation"

cover imageI probably do not follow the contemporary psych-rock scene as closely as I should, so this 2019 side project from Sweden's Hills managed to elude me for a couple of years. On one level, the leap from Hills to Centrum is not exactly a dramatic one, as För Meditation arguably resembles a Hills album with the electronic guitars and jammier tendencies excised. On a deeper level, however, the spell that Centrum casts is very different from that of most modern psych bands, as För Meditation feels like a lost classic from the late '60s/early '70s nexus where hallucinogens, Pandit Pran Nath, and eastern religion collectively transformed the more adventurous fringes of rock forever. In more practical terms, that means that För Meditation is full of droning, chanting, and raga-damaged psychedelia great enough to earn Centrum a place in my personal pantheon of Swedish psych/free music titans like Parson Sound and Träd, Gras och Stenar. They clearly also learned a trick or two from more recent bands too though, as they do an impressive job of sidestepping the genre's more indulgent tendencies and beautifully channel the killer ride cymbal grooves of classic Om (albeit opting more for hypnotic repetition than muscular intensity and virtuosic flourishes).

Rocket Recordings

The album's description begins with a quote from David Lynch about transcendental meditation and its tenet that "true happiness lies within," but Centrum seem to enthusiastically embraced the Zen ideal of ego death as well, as the band's enigmatic line-up is given only as "members of Hills and Weary Nous." That anonymity admittedly makes sense here, as the focus is not on individual performances so much as it is on the band members seamlessly converging in perfect harmony for a series of great droning grooves. Or, as the label puts it, "beguiling tapestries of drone-based hypnosis, mantric vocal chants and ritualistic folk along with field recordings" (the latter made by the band in India). The opening "Vid Floden" is a representative introduction to that aesthetic, as a slow, heady groove of pulsing Shruti box swells, muscular bass riffage, hazy chanted vocals, and a cool flute hook unfolds for ten straight minutes with minimal evolution. There are some subtle effects and a decent amount of guitar soloing (both clean and distorted), but the magic primarily lies in how the various musicians interact and embellish the groove without ever breaking the spell with indulgent missteps. Instead, elements like the smoldering guitar solo in the following "Sjön" serve more of a textural and dynamic purpose than a cathartic or melodic one. That said, that solo does inject a soulful intensity that plays a significant role in making "Sjön" one of the album's strongest pieces. Of course, the warbling wah-wah improvisations and heavy ride cymbal beat play crucial roles as well (especially once the tambourine kicks in).

The remaining two pieces are unsurprisingly devoted to variations on the same themes. The brief "Stjärnor" is the closest thing to a single, as it distills the Centrum vision to a tight five minutes and enhances it with a melodic violin theme, but it also breaks the hypnotic spell a bit with a very prominent wah-wah solo in its final moments. The closing "Som En Spegel," on the other hand, heads in the opposite direction and stretches out for twelve epic minutes with little threat of derailing. Initially, it feels a bit too fast and too muscular to quite hit the raga/drone comfort zone, but it gradually blossoms into a masterful slow burn with the addition of tambourine, serpentine flute melodies, and a very cool finale of dub-inspired percussion flourishes. Aside from the mixed success of "Stjärnor," För Meditation is a damn near perfect album in my book. While it is not terribly hard to find other psych-rock bands who look to the east for inspiration, very few are able to match the natural chemistry and sublime execution that Centrum bring to the form.

Samples can be found here.