Being Possessed Is Easy: Journey Into the Mystical Musical Explorations of Emil Amos
October 10, 2017 | by Jocelyn Hoppa
Emil Amos individually warrants (and can easily carry) his own Disappear Here, our column dedicated to those musical gateways that send a listener down the path of discovery. With over 50 records over the course of 20 years, it's a wonder why someone so musically prolific and explorative as Emil Amos would also stay so relatively underground. Perhaps his recent move to NYC will change all of that. Or, maybe it's having so many projects going on at once, no one really knows how to pin Emil down. And that's certainly not what this journey here is meant to do, as it's probably better just to fall down in the well and sink deep into his transcendental world.
You could take a bunch of acid and travel to India, but disappearing here would be the next best thing.
This is Emil’s band where he is the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and relies on lo-fi home recording techniques popularized in the early ‘90s by the likes of Lou Barlow. Holy Sons formed in 2000 and have 14 full-length records shrouded in mystery and off-kilter song structures that meld folk, psychedelia, melody, and other weird and wonderful avant-garde sonic explorations. Holy Sons mutates stunning arrangements, found also in Grails, and take it all somewhere unexpected but a place that also feels right and familiar when you get there. The lyrical content for Holy Sons (Grails is mostly instrumental) is, as Emil has said, about facing your own reality directly. And so, you’ll find the lyrics are often straightforward and yet filled with so much existential emotion.
Grails was started back around 2000 (their name then was actually Laurel Canyon), with Emil on drums and Alex Hall on guitar, and later was joined just in time for the band’s first EP by Timothy Horner on violin and Bill Slater on piano/bass. They released two EPs and then in 2003, right before their first full-length record, they changed their name to Grails and adopted a much louder and more aggressive sound, with band members switching instruments at will, which fueled all sorts of musical styles. Emil Amos was switching between drums and guitar and expanding on live instrumentation. While Grails was releasing Take Refuge in Clean Living (which was really well received), it was announced that Emil had also joined drone metal band OM.
Formed in 2003 by the rhythm section of stoner metal band Sleep (Al Cisneros on vocals/bass and Chris Hakius on drums), OM is a direct reference to that sound meant to encompass the natural vibration of the universe, and features elongated musical chant structures along with drone metal riffing on things like attaining freedom (not doom). Their first two studio albums Variations on a Theme and Conference of the Birds are three and two tracks respectively. Emil joined OM in 2008, replacing drummer Chris Hakius after he left the band. OM continues to evolve, including a third member (Robert Lowe of Lichens) in 2012. Although their last official studio full length, Advaitic Songs, was released in 2012 as well, and as far as we know the band hasn't officially called it quits yet.
“State of Non-Return”
Lilacs & Champagne
Emil and Alex Hall of Grails continue to warp psych music under the moniker Lilacs & Champagne, which twists the music around elements of hip-hop, tape collage, and low-budget ‘70s film soundtracks for, what Mexican Summer calls, a “lysergic and perverse style of head music.” In 2012 the then Portland-based duo dropped a self-titled album deeply influenced by Midlib, DJ Shadow, and J-Dilla, written and performed primarily using an Akai MPC sampler. You’ll also experience some stoner guitar noodling, exploratory riffing, other ominous strings, collaged beats, and sometimes distant vocals.
Released earlier this year in June, Filmmusik is a score to an imaginary film. Emil has stated he stole the idea from the keyboardist of Can, Irwin Schmidt, “who had a virtually unknown series of records under the same name.” All of the songs featured on this album come from old sessions for Lilacs & Champagne and during sessions for Grails’ Chalice Hymnal (a few of the tracks can be found in the film Suit of Lights. The compositions here are more subdued and traipsing here, where the depth of the lake that is Emil Amos deepens, darkens into a new psychedelic voyage.
And, since everyone has a podcast these days, why wouldn’t Emil Amos? Drifter’s Sympathy (on Feral Audio) features Amos telling “disturbing and often humiliating stories about growing up in a small town in the ‘90s with co-host Jonah Bayer.” A lot of the themes of this two-plus year project features outsider loner type stories with episode titles like “Insidious Mind Control,” “Low Brow Shamanisms in ‘94,” and “Plastic Flower People.” The musings are matched with crate digs into lesser known music that all stand to showcase the outsider from alternative perspectives.
"The Outsider" Episode 21