I'm really not sure how LA-based Heavy Water Experiments manage to recreate their sound live, being as they are the reincarnation of a duo called Imogene. The music on their debut studio album Heavy Water Experiments is so rich texturally that it is hard to imagine how two people alone could recreate such a sound live. The band is fronted by singer, songwriter and producer David Melbye who plays guitars, keyboards and bass and he is joined by Roberto Salguero on drums and percussion.
Heavy Water Experiment's rich sound is based on psychedelia, stemming directly from The Beatles's invention of the genre in "Tomorrow Never Knows", off the Revolver album. Indeed, "Book Colored Blue" quotes musically directly from "Tomorrow Never Knows". But don't get me wrong....neither this song, nor the band's sound overall can be said to be copyist: the influence is there for sure, and is acknowledged by the band, but their sound takes other influences and developments to create a clean but complex 21st century sound. "Book Colored Blue", which starts off with the clattering of pianos reminiscent of the ending of that famous Beatles song and then borrows its melody for the vocal part, develops into a blistering powerhouse of a song with a storming lead guitar part during its second half. It becomes much more than just a Beatles-influenced song, developing and expanding the themes with originality, and provides a fitting climax to an excellent album.
That song is representative of the whole: the music's roots are from 40 years ago but its spirit is very much of the 21st century. The production values reinforce that message too: it is squeaky clean, which to me says that whilst Melbye is happy to acknowledge the roots in his music (hence the CD's artwork) he is also indicating that he wants to live in the present. I heard no attempt to recreate the production techniques from 40 years ago as some "retro" bands do.
So whilst psychedelia tells you something about the soundscape it doesn't let you know about the complexities in the musical colors within this album. Three sonorities dominate the soundscape: each of them is not always present in every song but every composition has at least two of them and a few have all three. Probably the dominant sonority of the three is heavy bass music, stemming not only from a conventional bass played in fairly conventional style (aiding and abetting the drums to create the rhythmic structure) but also from an 8-string bass played in what sounds like a lead guitar style. It's a style of playing that instills a real "wall of sound" effect and when it is done as melodically as on Heavy Water Experiments it is very effective. It is music with muscle, it has a real presence.
Another strong feature is the near trance-like sonority of most of these compositions. One of the key ingredients leading to this effect is the electric piano playing, a beautiful texture, not too far up in the mix, just enough so that your mind focuses on it almost as if by magic, as oft-repeated motifs of short phrases are repeated mantra-like.
The third element brings the sweetness that is the "icing on the cake". Melbye shows a sharp acumen for melody throughout these compositions that is most obvious in those songs where acoustic guitars replace the 8-string bass but it is nevertheless a constant feature. Aided by his soft vocals and occasionally by some good harmonies it almost feels like the California Sound bolted in here - it works extremely well within the whole soundscape.
These different elements are both what gives variety and coherence to these songs. The variety comes in the strength of the individual elements within particular song. For instance, on a song like "Dementia" which features acoustic guitar the dominant element in the soundscape is not the bass but Melbye still manages to create a coherent feel by retaining enough factors from the other elements, weaving a unifying thread through the album. It has sweet melody, a mantric feel to sections of it and, of course, the conventional bass is chugging away there. In such a way the listener is happy to listen to this song, almost "pop", right next to the much heavier "Conflagration Song", without thinking twice - they both fit neatly into this fine album.
Within this rich soundscape, the listener can get enjoyment by choosing to focus on just one of the specific sonic elements and absorbing its intricacies or by listening more in a more conventional mode, in which case the music envelops you in its mantric tentacles and draws you in subliminally, leaving you playing it in your mind long after the disc has stopped.
Melbye has been a through quite a few bands and projects before Imogene/Heavy Water Experiments: Ludivine, Fuzz Beloved and Zanzibar. It is to be hoped that Heavy Water Experiments will be around long enough to deliver a follow-up to this excellent debut album. The only reason that it won't feature in my Top 25 for 2008 is that I've already sent my list to Pete!
1) Goldenthroat (6:34)
2) Mirror the Sky (5:31)
3) Anodyne (4:44)
4) Clairvoyance (4:57)
5) Neverlove (4:21)
6) Oracles (4:10)
7) Octavian (2:35)
9) Dementia (4:37)
10) Conflagration Song (5:25)
11) Solitude (4:14)
12) Book Colored Blue (9:44)