November 13, 2020

Eleven chimes usher listeners into the world of The Opposite, the eighth album by the hypnotically eclectic Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores. Eight songs later, another set of eleven chimes release us from the music’s frankly weird, but spellbinding, hold. In between lies a collection of songs that are part folk tale, part rock, alluringly different, darkly mysterious but sort of infectiously accessible!

For the last two decades, the Rhode Island (New England, US) based Redfearn has crafted a strangely compelling, uncategorisable sound that is entirely his own but touches on a stunning variety of influences both musical and otherwise. The band’s musical style is built around Redfearn’s serpentine accordion lines and beguiling vocals, which between them lace the music with tinges of everything from Krautrock to minimalism, Egyptian nuances, mystical folk tunes and psychedelic prog. Thematically, his lyrics hint at mind-expanding concepts from his voracious reading and adventurous experiences.

The Opposite is the Eyesores’ long-awaited follow-up to their 2012 release Sister Death. Where that album reached toward the epic with a roster of special guests and larger instrumentation, The Opposite pares things down to the core band of four, with an accompanying intimacy and intensity. The sparse instrumentation is extended with the use of pedals and amplification that blend with the acoustic instruments to offer something quite unique. A stream-of-consciousness approach to the lyrics builds on the album’s sense of dreamlike imagery and elusive associations.

The album was actually released in the US in 2018, but has only recently become more widely available. The recording process involved two engineers, Seth Manchester and Udi Koomran, the result being a clean, deceptively simple sound mix. Stories that are personal and universal, poetic and humorously insane, all come together in the distinctly unusual world of Alec Redfearn. With The Opposite, the band has created a collection of music that is at once their most accessible and mind-expanding to date.

To British ears, Redfearn sounds like a demented cross between Ashley Hutchings (the godfather of English folk-rock and mean accordion player); Gong; Jonathan Richman (of The Modern Lovers fame); and John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett! Lob in a bit of Syd Barrett and vocals by Bill Nelson, and you begin to get a flavour of the outright wackiness of this band! Be prepared for a musical journey the likes of which you almost certainly won’t have heard before!

In order: Alec K. Redfearn (Vocal, Accordion, Combo Organ, Loops); Ann Schattle (Vocals, Horn); Matt McLaren (Drums, Lots of Percussion); Chris Sadlers (Contrabass, Loops, Vocals)

The album takes its title from a recurring theme that runs throughout Redfearn’s esoteric readings, the notion that everything contains its own opposite, a shadow or other that balances, haunts, or reflects its possessor. That concept occurs in many differing places, from Aleister Crowley to the Kabbalah to the Gnostics – even to the US TV show Seinfeld, which based a magical episode around George Costanza changing his life for the better by making every decision based on the opposite of what he would normally do.

Redfearn cites that Seinfeld episode as a personal favorite, and it typifies his songwriting ethos, one that thrives as much in the glaring light of pop culture as it does in the shrouded, hidden corners of the occult. ‘I really delved into western esoteric thought as a way to find some spiritual hook that wasn’t the Christianity I grew up with,’ Redfearn explains. ‘But I also felt like that was deep in our culture at the moment. We’ve started hearing more about tarot and witchcraft, and it has even seeped into pop culture a bit: Jay-Z referencing the Illuminati, and even Katy Perry posing like Baphomet.’

This overall theme has led to a stream of consciousness approach to the album’s lyrics, giving them a sense of dreamlike imagery not unlike the psych-rock of Syd Barrett and early Pink Floyd. The music takes a similarly sweeping canvas, influences stretching from bands like Suicide, Can and Faust; synth-pop pioneers Tangerine Dream and proto-Darkwave groundbreakers Gary Numan and John Foxx; with the droning effect echoing the likes of the Velvet Underground and Chrome.

Soft Motors introduces us to the proceedings, a sort of invocation with a swirling, repetitive throb setting the rapturous tone for the album. It’s followed by the instrumental track Tramadoliday, the title of which and crazed, pulsing beat suggests a few doses of prescription medication might have been involved. It’s very ’60s, early Floyd and lots of other, long-lost experimentalists spring to mind, Gong, Colosseum, and Caravan to name but three!

The title song is next, setting a sinister mood with a tense atmosphere supplied by Redfearn’s pulsating accordion, Mclaren’s insistent beat and percussion; and Sadlers’ bass echoed by synth lines. To me it conjures a nightmarish circus act? This is followed by Carnivore, strong primal rhythms and Redfearn’s panting incantations combining to create a sense of pagan ceremony, again conjuring visions of 60’s female devotee dancers swaying to the hypnotic rhythm. It feels dark and uncomfortable, shades of the original Wicker Man, but actually I think this is the best track on the album.

The frenetic There’s a Bat Living in My Room is next, quite a short, dark tune that has a manic lunacy stemming from a former acquaintance of Redfearn’s, an unhinged cocaine dealer prone to paranoiac delusions and hallucinatory visions. Sadly, this reminds me a lot of Syd Barrett. Rend the Veil then claims to peer into the abyss between the realms of matter and spirit and finding a disorienting chaos that is transmitted back into our ears, swarming with the buzz of insects (or their representation via the Realistic MG-1, a synth created by Bob Moog for Radio Shack in the early ‘80s and meant for home consumers but used by the likes of Peter Gabriel and KMFDM). It’s inspired in part by Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Mass.

Possum seems to take place in a western ghost town, it’s haunted by disconcerting melodies somewhere between Ennio Morricone and Can and conjures the dusty, nameless landscapes of Sergio Leone. The song pays tribute to a friend of Redfearn’s who committed suicide, but who apparently lives on in the memory of a Halloween party where he carried a possum while dressed as Clint Eastwood’s iconic Man With No Name!!

Pterodactyl ends the album, and is a homage to the intriguing poet, banking heir, sun worshipper and libertine ex-pat Harry Crosby. Weirdly, this reminds me of Bryan ferry and early Roxy Music, and in hindsight Redfearn and Brian Eno do share an interest in experimental synths. So there you go – it’s definitely not for everyone, but there is something strangely compelling about the combination of crazed accordion, hippyish lyrics and often middle eastern influenced percussion, hypnotic rhythms and syncopation, not to mention a touch of french horn for completeness!