Ak’chamel. Photo: Southmorehouse Presents
There are almost always those bands who make music that when you hear it, you really can’t describe the sounds that emanate from your speakers. When B L A C K I E first told me about Houston’s Ak’chamel, his words of “you just have to see them live” didn’t really register on me when he said them. However, like any good advice, he was one hundred percent correct in his assessment. Quite possibly the most bizarre band I’ve seen in the past decade, Ak’chamel continues to push the boundaries of experimental music while also never copying what they’ve done before. On their latest release, Transmission From Boshqa, the group that varies between a two-piece and a five-piece takes things one step further in their genre, while echoing the likes of Sir Richard Bishop and Alvarius B without lifting from either.
To be fair, as per the band, this record is a concept album about radio transmissions from mythological lands across the globe. On the opening track, “Transmissions From Boshqa,” the band creates a sound like that of radio signals accompanied by chants from those in the midst of a revolt before transferring that energy to a more sparse and stripped down sound. Complete with Eastern instrumentation and primitive drums, the group crafts a rhythm from just a few elements. They follow this with the Eastern European sounding “Amazonica (trust in me),” giving off the vibe that you’re caught in the middle of a tribal wedding reception. The track brings about images of nomadic people dancing in enjoyment and contentment, so real that you can almost hear the tongues of their land being spoken while the music plays. The feedback and manipulated resonance of “Bullet Ant Initiation” creates sounds that feel closer to a lobotomy than music, but maybe that’s the point. The song really gets in your head while you try to reason with what’s being played.
When the band relinquishes all of the “transmissions” and returns to their former selves, the mix of oddities in the notes of a down tuned guitar and multiple beats from multiple drums come forth to craft what will become “Ancestral Incest.” The psychedelic implications of the song are stolen by a vocal chant that sneaks onto the track before ghosting off into the atmosphere that Ak’chamel creates. Buried within the track, another faint vocal rings out in the distance, further evolving this world that the band has fabricated. The same can be said about the following song, “Apparitions,” where it feels like a whole new band. The synthesized opening only starts to have that “Ak’chamel feel,” when an Eastern wind instrument starts to noodle on and off the song. No matter how invested or divested you are here, you quickly realize that this is Ak’chamel’s world, and you’re just a tourist who’s being granted an audience with the leaders of their universe. While the track takes a 90 degree turn half way through, it just holds your attention while you wait to hear what the band has cooked up next.
The band comes closest to their former selves on “Latent Defilements” where the Eastern influences and ringing bells accompanied by diverse strings create a dance that feels more ritualistic. Almost like the soundtrack to a death ceremony in an undeveloped part of the globe, Ak’chamel stirs the pot while a demonic stew occasionally rears its head only to suck you deeper into the darkness. That stark reality is only further explored on the following song, “Bhairvi.” The way in which the band incorporates modern free form jazz with an almost disco beat is only macerated by the bizarre strings and synth stabs that cut into the track like multiple artists are performing at the same time. A couple of tracks later, you get the closest to modern music the band will craft of the entire album on “Processionals of Mauka.” The Eastern guitar that almost begins like that of a Led Zeppelin song that you can’t remember is met with strange vocals that sound like a voodoo priest giving you your last rites complete with tribal drums that never find their way to get louder than that of a distant memory.
Ak’chamel closes the conceptual album with the rhythmically charged and ghostly nuances of “Spirit Radio.” While the band changes direction several times of the track, there are hints of Sun City Girls in the multiplied techniques the band employs. There’s a subtle genius to how invested the band can make you while this world in which they occupy passes you by while never losing your attentive nature as a curious spectator. While the songs will take on another form when the band performs live, the twists and turns that the band offers up here are far and away much more progressive than their releases of the past.
You can purchase a copy from the Ak’chamel bandcamp here, or grab your own physical version from the band when they open for Boy Harsher tonight at Satellite Bar. The all ages show with doors at 8 pm and has tickets for $7 and opening performances from Tearful Moon and Andrew Lee. While I can’t tell you what you’re going to witness when they perform, I can tell you that it will be far from boring, if not the most intriguing set you’ll see in a long time.