Forest, jungle or swamp? The Perth brothers known as Salamander leave it up to their listeners to decide. I’m going to go with jungle, as Neocambrian is dense with native rhythms, wet foliage and the chatterings of exotic animals. The remarkable mastering produces a three-dimensional effect; sounds are hidden in the mix like patient predators. This isn’t a reflection of the wee-mo-weh happiness of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” or the human danger of “Apocalypse Now”, but of something otherworldly, like a spaceship unearthed by a panther. Drone, synth and sound effect collide at full speed, rub their heads, then surge forward again as parrots laugh at the display. Tabla rhythms mesmerize the monkeys. Serpents slow down to feel the vibrations. The vines sway in time to the beat.
This is not a normal recording. There’s nothing here that’s typical or predictable. And yet, it’s still accessible. Other reviewers have called it “difficult”, but I disagree. Neocambrian is intelligent, nuanced and complex, but not difficult. The beat is the guide, the point of access, the path through the jungle. Stay on the path, avoid the butterfly effect, and all will be fine. It’s just not what most listeners are used to. This recording offers a passage through the unknown while tethering a thin thread to the familiar. Unlike other experimental music, the album is not so far out there as to be incomprehensible; it simply requires – and promotes – repeated plays. This element is one that many of the best recordings have in common; one can’t grasp what is going on for a while, but one wants to know more, in the same manner that one might stare at a painting or puzzle over a poem. There’s a lot going on in Neocambrian, which is the allure. Is that a gas station pump on “Vapour Field”? A woodpecker on “Weaving Rift”? Who knows? Let’s play it again.
Consider these points of access: the electronic patterns of “Lair Descent” that morph into something just left of Future Sound of London; the speaker-to-speaker flirtation of “Vapour Field”, the drums that develop into a steady beat on “Weaving Rift”. These segments are enough; they operate like bread crumbs, inviting listeners to follow them before the trail disappears. And disappear it will on “Senninzawa”, the album’s astonishing 14-minute closer. The duo goes for broke here, trusting that those who have followed them this far into the jungle will be willing to stay – or perhaps realizing that they must stay, since their guide has decided to set up camp and the bread crumbs have since been eaten. “Senninzawa” is exactly what one hopes for in a closing track – the culmination of all that has gone before. It may be surprising to hear a low-toned church bell in the opening minutes, but this is what the brothers do best: provide a friendly invitation and see how far their listeners are willing to follow. As this final piece descends into the heart of the jungle, it’s easy to imagine a tour guide gone native. Reason and rhythm disappear for long stretches while unnamed creatures hatch and begin to move. You’re in it now, son.
Neocambrian may be the road less traveled, but it’s a good road, a worthy road, an adventure beyond the comfort zone. Salamander stretches boundaries in the best way, cutting a path in the jungle. Take your malaria pills and don your pith helmets; this one’s worth the work. (Richard Allen)