Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

VagusNerve—
Go Back To The Sirius


Released 2012 on Utech
The Seth Man, October 2015ce
The Chinese duo VagusNerve have conjured up and spewed forth one staggeringly transcendental sonic impression called “Go Back To Sirius.” Comprised of guitarist Li Jianhong and electronics generator VAVABOND, VagusNerve nailed it all over the place on this CD via three 20 minute long instrumentals that sweep, swerve, tear and overlap from within and without AND in the most effortlessly psychedelic, heavy, and cosmic ways. Best of all, they do it without sounding like anything else from here to Sirius…Serious! Only in places can miniscule elements from “The Heavenly Music Corporation”, 1972-era Dik Mik/Del Dettmar, Ohr/Brain Klaus Schulze, maybe “Rainbow Dome Musick” and perhaps even the opening drones from Led Zeppelin’s “In The Light” AND “In The Evening” be traced but in all honesty, it’s probably more out of linking something/anything in order to ground oneself while experiencing this astonishingly singular assault that ebbs and flows at the speed of creation rather than anything approaching an homage.

Dammit, this album is light years (figuratively AND literally) ahead of anything calling itself ‘psychedelic’ nowadays. One of the key reasons may lie in the fact that VagusNerve hail from The People’s Republic of China, a placed with as limited a connection to Rock culture as 1980s Iran, Micronesia or the Moon. But that’s all in the past as comparatively recent developments (the internet plus an ever-expanding economic and exporting power) have enabled recent generations in the People’s Republic China to interface with those previously forbidden cultural and subcultural strands from the western world and elsewhere and they’ve taken to it with a vengeance. Right now, there are enough experimental, avant-garde and underground Chinese musicians and groups to facilitate concerts and festivals while the creation of the annual JUE | Music + Art new media event has been rocking both Beijing and Shanghai since 2013 with not only music but films, photographic exhibitions, conferences and visual arts workshops.

On the JUE | Music + Art website, there’s a paragraph prior to a description of an exhibition of the work of the memorably-named photographer, Wizard Tang:

‘There are subtle boundaries between sounds, sights, illusions, and faith. There are boundaries between life and death, dreams and reality, suffering and joy. Let’s tear these boundaries and feel and love without them. Let’s experience our lives with music and images. Get obsessed and possessed by life: get to know this world without boundaries.’

So where does VagusNerve fit into this awakening wave in China? As one of the highest realised psychedelic group in the PRC, I believe their album “Go Back To The Sirius” to be insanely possessed by life, obsessed by the occult, while tracing and recalling the many subtle boundaries between sounds, and then superimposing them all onto this record with so many subtle and extreme touches that I lost count of them all – and my mind as well. How do you describe the infinite? Gimme a lifetime and I’ll get back to you! This record is like...OK: You know that list on the Death Comes Along record where they list everybody from Ash Ra Tempel, Black Sabbath, Guru Guru, German Oak, etc. and initially you think: How can any band have influences that diverse and strong and not wind up producing something that doesn’t reek of brown-nosing the whole affair into a cheap retro-fuelled feel up instead of a full frontal lobal peak experience? But when you hear it, you’re immediately devastated by how out-there it is and how it sounds nothing else you’ve ever heard? Well, Li Jianhong has not only name-checked Guru Guru but Heldon, Hawkwind, Träd Gräs Och Stenar as well as Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Timothy Leary, the whole Cosmic Couriers scene and Les Rallizes Denudes in interviews as influences and guess what? This record exceeds all expectations of that list…By simply not sounding like any of them but only (the biggest only) learning from them by embracing and absorbing their essence while doing their own thing, the right thing, and not the easy thing. Perhaps not being exposed to all the successive waves of popular and underground music from the past several decades have allowed VagusNerve a freer space in which to engage the Muse as well as far more free time to do so (as the arduous process of unlearning both successes and ignoring the chaff of the past is somewhat a moot point.) Or just by being exceptional musicians. Or a combination of the two.

Whatever the cause for this recent cultural explosion in China, the effects yielded on “Go Back To The Sirius” are tremendous. At low volume a meditational device you can spin for weeks on end -- or at top volume, experience a terrifying sonic epic unfold in-between your eyes. The unfolding-ness of each piece happens so slightly yet so openly, it’s extraordinary and beyond description. For even when “The Memory Of Light” gently emerges, all twinkling starscapes abound behind swirling mists of sonic debris as dark undertows of street sweeping machines abound in the distance, you soon get razing guitar notes in deep sustain, wah-wah’d through double echo(com)plexes that roar ruinously as you wonder: how something that built for this long paid off so gloriously? The longest track on the album as well as the most subdued, “The Exiled Life,” is just as evolutionary a piece and a space-debris littered orbit where growling guitars misshapen by pitch-controlling ghosts hang like gossamer sheets while early morning fog dissipates under the weight of the first rays of morning until at some later point, you’ve lost all track of how it all began and wonder how long those super-slowed, backward vocals have been beckoning in the background.

The final track, “Go Back To The Sirius” is an unbelievably dense but evenly balanced affair where Li Jianhong continually unleashes sensational barrage upon barrage from his guitar all over the place while VAVABOND gently draws forth from her laptop only the most desensitizing electronic abstractions that work, weave, warp, and woof with all the unyielding and never-ending waves of guitar sustaining and distortion. Whether this album is improvisational, composed beforehand or the musical equivalents of cosmic rays directed at Canis Major, I don’t know. But the overwhelming nature of this auspicious record does make me think: probably all three simultaneously.

Order this album from the excellent Utech Records. The physical CD is a limited edition of 300, but since their first album (the equally excellent “Lo Pan”) is long gone, it would probably be wise to act sooner rather than later.