“Ascension,” the opening track on Shining Realm’s new release, starts with a long, low, layered drone that hits like a cicada symphony warming up on a hot summer night. When you close your eyes, you can see the exact angle of the beam of light that you’re being carried on, and each new sound that’s added ratchets up the tension and excitement and draws you closer to the parting in the clouds. It’s nearly five minutes of rise, a slow trip to the top of the first hill of a roller coaster — but the drop into the loping guitar that kicks off track two, “Enter the Shining Realm,” is an easy drift, rather than a stomach-lurch. You’re not going down, you’re disconnecting from the tracks and taking off tangentially.
Enter the Shining Realm is a delightful slice of psychedelia, with roots in the 13th Floor Elevators and kin to Iowa contemporaries Land of Blood and Sunshine. It’s the music that we might have seen out of the Beatles if George Harrison had kicked Lennon and McCartney’s egos to the curb and taken over. But as much as I love it (and I do; it sounds like reawakening), it doesn’t need to appeal to my tastes to be fantastic. The album is stellar work, from top to bottom, the sort that makes you want to run out and buy the most expensive headphones you can to ensure you’re not missing anything.
The vocal and instrumental layering create not a wall but a dense succession of curtains of sound that part as you reach them like an invitation. Track five, “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” is a maze that somehow traps you in its tight 2:37; it follows the arch and fantastical “Lay Down Thy Sword,” which starts with startling percussion and offers the lyric, “… there She stood / The Weaver of the Dawn / She wore a crown of thirteen stars orbiting Her prism-colored hair.” Yeah, that’s the stuff you expect to hear while cruising through the mystic aether. This record hits every tone right on, while being sincere enough — and skillful enough — to escape being hackneyed.
When “Jodorowsky’s Dune” fades into “A Pilot of Mortality,” the harmonies take center stage, continuing on into “Bleed a Prayer from the Stone.” The production is gorgeous, and the vocals twin and separate, dancing around one another. The heavy orchestration of the earlier tracks has been simplified to offer a backdrop to the almost choral creations happening here.
On track 9, the album closer, “Amida,” Shining Realm lowers us slowly back down to earth with a more traditional rocker, with more obvious kit drums, more accessible lyrics and more familiar guitar work. This is the radio track, if there is one, with just a hint of the Eastern flavor that the rest of the album is steeped in. It’s a gentle letting go, a thank you; you can actually imagine listening to something else after.
You won’t want to, though. Once you’ve finished this ride, you’ll want to hop right back on.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 295.