Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Salamander-Red Ampersand(1997)+Red Mantra(1998),CD,USA

Minneapolis outfit Salamander began as a duo in the summer of 1992 featuring Erik Wivinus and Sean Connaughty on guitars and vocals. They played mostly mellow drone-based instrumentals that in retrospect sounded much like contemporaries Labradford or Low. Doug Morman joined on bass in early 1993. They recorded and played gigs as a drummer-less trio until Bryce Kastning joined on drums and keyboards in early 1994. Then followed a period of heavy psychedelic improvisation and four-track recording, leading to a trip to POD studios in 94/95 to lay down some material on 16-track. The first stage of these sessions was released as "Red Ampersand" by Camera Obscura in 1997. By the time of this release, Salamander had become a part-time entity, as members pursued studies and various side projects. "Red Ampersand" created great interest as it showed a band that was clearly very early out of the blocks with a heavy droning improvisation psych style that stood comparisons to the early work of Bardo Pond and Cul de Sac, but also was capable of fine song-craft.
Due to the interest generated by "Red Ampersand" Camera Obscura continued their series of Salamander releases with "Red Mantra" in 1998. Rumours of Salamander's demise had proven to be premature, with "Red Mantra" being a combination of archival material and new material recorded specifically for the release. Evolving from the pure psych of the "Red Ampersand" CD, tracks like "Earthborn Animal" and "Old Mr. Jones" introduced acid-folk and folk-rock elements to offset the extended improvisational psych rock of the title track. After this release Salamander went into hiatus as Sean Connaughty moved interstate to take up Masters in Fine Arts scholarship and record as Vortex Navigation Company, and Erik recorded as part of the duo Gentle Tasaday as well as joining Minneapolis space-rockers Skye Klad. Interest in Salamander never waned, though, and a third Salamander release was completed at the end of 2000 and released as the double LP "Birds of Appetite".
"Birds of Appetite" was Salamander's most consistent and definitive work to date, refining their mix of eastern-influenced acid folk and giant Ash Ra Tempel-ish cosmic improvisations. It marked the end of a trilogy that documented the first phase of the band, and its rarity led to a 2003 CD release for those that missed out on the vinyl version. By this point, Bryce Kastning had departed to pursue ambient solo work (though he still occasionally contributes to the band's efforts and remains a good friend to the band as well as a member of Vortex Navigation Company). Skye Klad's Matthew Zaun took his place on the drum stool. After the recording of "Birds of Appetite" and Salamander's short East-coast tour with labelmates Primordial Undermind and the Japanese psych monsters Overhang Party, bassist Doug Morman also moved out of state and decided to bow out of the group in order to settle into his life as an avid horticulturist and devoted husband and father of two. His position on bass was ably filled by Skye Klad bassist Dave Onnen, who along with Zaun forms the precise rhythm-section that is the bedrock of Salamander's music to this day.
Another lengthy interregnum followed "Birds of Appetite", while members pursued other musical and artistic projects, but the membership never lost interest and kept practicing together, even playing live occasionally with the likes of Davis Redford Triad, Kinski and Black Forest/Black Sea. The 2002 "Live at Soo Gallery" LP on Dave Onnen's Mutant Music label represents this period well. In early 2004 Salamander recorded its fourth CD, titled "Bent Hemlock" which is now out Camera Obscura. On these recordings, the band fully explores their interest in psychedelic folk and Appalachian traditional forms for what is radical departure into almost wholly acoustic territory, albeit with the guitar onslaught connecting the listener to past releases.
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Dr Wommm said...

Nice work, I've owned Red Ampersand for years but somehow never got round to getting Red Mantra. Thanks for reminding me of a wonderful and underapprectiated band

Anonymous said...

Wonderful band!
Any chance for another albums from Salamander? Thanks.