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California Psychedelia 

Andrew Douglas Rothbard channels classics through his laptop

Wednesday, Nov 22 2006
The new CD from San Francisco's Andrew Douglas Rothbard, Abandoned Meander, is one of those captivating, outta-nowhere masterworks. Recorded over three years on Rothbard's PowerBook, the album is trippy, lulling, and euphoric, with hints of everything from vintage Beach Boys and Tyrannosaurus Rex to Brian Eno-meets-Radiohead pop experimentalism. The echoey vocals mesmerize, with impressionistic, inscrutable lyrics.

Released on Halloween by local label Smooch, the album has already garnered glowing praise. Both San Francisco's Aquarius Records and Piccadilly Records in Manchester, England, made it a featured pick. A Swedish music Web site went so far as to say that Abandoned Meander "is without hesitation one of the absolute highlights of this year." Packed with traditional instruments such as guitar and keyboards as well as tape loops and effects galore, Rothbard's 13-song disc parallels the current freak-folk scene and such artists as Devendra Banhart and Six Organs of Admittance. According to Rothbard, that's just a coincidence.

"I don't listen to contemporary music," the self-taught multi-instrumentalist says during an interview at his Haight Street apartment. Instead, Rothbard's project is inspired primarily by obscure '60s psychedelic pop. Looking around his living room, it's not hard to believe this; among the various exotic percussion instruments, vintage effects units, and his 1966 Fender Coronado 12-string, there are several large stacks of vinyl. They're mostly of the California bubblegum psych variety, including key Meander influences such as the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Millenium, and Sagittarius. "I started getting into these softer, studio psych, '68-style records," says Rothbard. "There's a synthetic beauty to these recordings, and a lot of them were just kind of created in these studios in L.A. The idea of making a studio psych recording that was beyond just a singer and his guitar sort of started germinating."

Rothbard, now 30, started playing in bands around Boulder, Colo., when he was 15. He played bass and keyboards with the VSS, an aggressive, innovative outfit that relocated to San Francisco, then broke up in 1997. Three of the VSS band members went on to form Slaves, which became Pleasure Forever, a group that recorded dark, cabaret-tinged rock for Sub Pop and toured heavily before disbanding in 2003. Burnt on road life, bad opening slots, and the music industry grind, Rothbard was ready to bail. "After about 12 years of being engaged in the mechanics of that [record/tour/repeat] process, I wanted to invert it," says Rothbard. "I just wanted to break the cycle, and make a recording for the sake of recording."

In an e-mail, drummer Dave Clifford, who played with Rothbard in those earlier groups and is now in Red Sparowes, calls Rothbard's new album "a beautiful cacophony of psychedelic folk mantra." "Abandoned Meander is an incredible undertaking that seems like the culmination of all the ideas that he's been working toward realizing over the past decade," writes Clifford. "It's amazing to hear what he's created without any interlopers."

Meander is actually the first of a five-album suite, based on an arcane concept called the law of fives, which correlates to the themes of Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis, Parenthesis, and Paralysis. Rothbard has started work on the second one, Rainbeam Sunbow, the Antithesis to Meander's Thesis. He's also beginning to play live again in a band called Godseye, with his girlfriend Michele Hanningan on sitar. Rothbard seems genuinely enthusiastic about the band and his recordings, both of which might contain some unexpectedly dichotomous surprises in the future: He's been incorporating a lot of drum machine sequences into the current crop of recordings as well as into Godseye's songs, in an effort to create a kind of past-meets-present electronic psychedelia. "I really am excited about technology advancing further and becoming even more of a tool," Rothbard says of forthcoming endeavors, "while at the same time I'll be discovering my latest holy grail from the '60s."

About The Author

Mike Rowell


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