Michael Garrison

In the Regions of Sunreturn (Windspell Records 1979)

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Over the past two years since my son was born, I’ve slowly weeded the more aggressive sentiments from my music collection in favor of the mellow, zen vibes I try to instill in my own household. Long gone are the days when I would find some sort of cathartic release while blaring some nihilistic bullshit and tackling my first-world problems with six-pack in tow. I guess that’s why I now find myself sporting some seedy little “dad beard” and soaking in the questionable ambiance of albums like Michael Garrison’s In the Regions of Sunreturn.

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for hippie-dippy keyboard excursions, but kind of limited myself to a small cache of records by the holy triumvirate of Cluster, Roedelius and Moebius and their assorted offshoots and back alleys. However, I’ve been tripping down a wormhole of new age detritus that my 18-year old self would punch me square in my jaw if he caught wind of some of the shit that’s found its way onto my turntable these days. I read a thread on the Waxidermy message board about PINA, or Private Issue New Age, which is a loosely-defined genre that was entirely new to me. I dipped by toe into some of titles championed there and I now find myself totally enamored by such albums like Daniel Lentz’s Missa Umbrarum and Kay Gardner’s Moon Circles. However, Michael Garrison’s In the Regions of Sunreturn might be the one that takes the cake so far.

A brief description of the record opined that it was an “Oregon classic…by an American private synth wizard record.” That was enough to hook me these days, which is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but it sure paid off when I tracked down a copy of it. In the Regions of Sunreturn kind of falls somewhere in an unforseen nexus of Cluster/Roedelius/Moebius, Mannheim Steamroller and a John Carpenter soundtrack of the early 80s. It all kicks off with a slow-motion hiss then one of those zoned-out beats, like a teutonic pulsation, takes hold and slowly builds in intensity as some majestic synth tomfoolery commences high above the playing field. It’s just one of those beats that taps into your cortex and gets your head a-noddin like its far-flung cousins in such songs as “Yoo Doo Right” by Can or “You Make Me Feel(Mighty Real)” by Sylvester. Yeah, they nothing in common, yet everything in common since they all get your attention right away and suck you into their respective worlds.

Most of this album is a series of variations on the formula trailblazed on the opener, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Michael Garrison obviously agrees with this weathered, but well-meaning cliche and barely varies the pace but does unleash a kaleidoscopic series of cascading melodies that kind of bathe you in mellowness. Yet, the recurrently repetitive beat that chugs through each track has this jubilation and energy that counteracts the haze of synths. It’s hypnotic, yet amazingly kinetic as Garrison maintains this tension between stoned meandering and an electronic choogling that keeps your toe tapping while fight the urge to nod off.

The best parts might be few tracks that serve as intermissions from the incessant variations of that beat where the earth suddenly drops out from the rhythm and Garrison lets it all devolve into some primordial whoosh where everything suddenly becomes echoing and ominous. These ambient interludes are kind of spellbinding only last a few minutes, but they place you in such a stasis that it feels much longer. They are so soothing that the eventual reintroduction of the beat kind of gains an added power each time it sucks you of the morass towards more ecstatic heights.

Yeah, In the Regions of Sunreturn kind of sounds like its title, but that’s a good thing. No one speaks a word on the album, but the music fills in all of the blanks as Garrison kind of takes you on a bit of journey through some candy-coated 80s sci-fi adventure that deserved a soundtrack as worthy as this.