If you could get, in a single album, semi-chipper psych pop, space jazz, and intoxicating psychedelic jams, would you? I don’t know, that’s for you to ask yourself. Should you decide to take on this challenge, and I believe you should, Cambodia Highball‘s debut release, “Odd Geometry”, is the only album you’ll need. Did you hear hyperbole in that? Truly, you’re imagining it, because I am completely serious … well, as serious as I am capable of being.
Before ever putting words to page, I’ve listened to this album more than any other album previously described on these very electronic pages. I may not be the expert on this album, but I am more expert than ever before. I do not, unfortunately, have any training certificates to prove it. You’ll have to trust me. I found myself traveling a very specific journey, as the artists perhaps intended. In a way, I was forced into this journey as nine standalone songs were combined into 4 longer album sides. I admit it, I don’t like being forced into that journey, but it helped me, not harmed me.
Roughly speaking, the album divides into 4 musical chunks where Side A gives you the infectious psych pop like Hubner produces under his own name and Sunnydaymassacre. Side B starts where Side A left off and then travels straight to space for a minimalist jam session full of open airless spaces. Side C continues, with less minimalism (a double negative?), switching later to the darker sounds of “Open Veins”Although starting as more space jazz, Side D moves into trance-inducing psychedelic jams similar to the intersection of Wooden Shjips and Whirr. So, that’s the generic picture, let’s delve into my favorite parts.
First, the artwork. If you’ve seen photos of either band member, Hubner or Page, but just one, you’ll be convinced he’s the one portrayed on the cover. In fact, it’s a subtly merged image of both created by Shane Darin Page (he’s on the left half) that convinces me, almost, that they are, in fact, identical twins differing only slightly in glasses and beard length. It’s not true. They are two separate people, but people who’ve known each other for a long time. In short, they are more like family than many who share actual genes.
Opening off on Side B is “On Brighter Days (She Sings)” where, in variations more interesting than I can describe, a chiming riff and bell-like guitar plucks pull you into the happiest clouds you’ve ever known. In your happy reverie, an overdriven guitar/bass guitar enters and rocks you like you need to be rocked, with confidence and rhythm. Hmm … I feel a little dirty writing it that way, but the words work even though the implication takes you elsewhere.
Finishing off Side B is “Odd Geometry Part I” which, as a genre or subject of academic study, is not generally my thing. In a way, it’s the soundtrack to a space-based horror movie, not the part where the monster jumps out, but the search that precedes the first jump. The background hum, the semi-random drums, the single wiggly guitar tones, all speak of people abandoned to their fate in a massive spaceship full of dark spaces and monster-sized hideouts. It’s space jazz if I ever heard it and it is just as scary, in a good way, as that just-invented label suggests.
“Open Veins” starts with a simple groove reminiscent of that fun SNL Christmas song featuring Horatio Sanz. From there, it adds nuance that SNL never had, creating a simple infectious slice of music that repeats forever in your subconscious. How do I know it repeats? Because from the latter half of side B (Odd Geometry Part I) all the way through the closing of side C (featuring “Open Veins”), I completely lose track of time and, yet, when listening carefully, I know this last song almost perfectly. If I’ve never heard it before, how can this be true? Because Masters Hubner and Paige have programmed this song into my subconscious already.
Album closer “Ghost of Us” brings you home safely, but not the same as you left. The shimmering guitar sound, layered over the doses of soothing throbbing fuzz, and gently driving bass, let you safely examine the trip you’ve just taken without removing it’s impact. There’s the remnants of Side A’s happy trip, the spookiness of your space jazz excursion, a little darkness, and ample space for subtle improvisation. If you take the trip, Cambodia Highball will leave you changed, but undamaged.