Mike Cooper | Tropical Gothic
The septuagenarian artist only shows vital signs on Tropical Gothic. On these nine tracks, eight short works on side one, and a singular lengthy work on the flipside we begin to hear jungle vibes on The Pit, an abbreviated overture running less than a minute. The setting becomes mysterious, driven by intrigue as A Mask of Flesh begins to reveal itself. With slight twang and nefarious rumbling this fluidly rolls into By The River. It’s percussive, elusive, and a bit of a staring-down-the-barrel setting. Each of these vignettes has its very own character, but together they piece together a puzzle of goings-on that slip by rapidly. The slight Asian inflections of Samurai drifts right into the nippy sound effects of the gamelan-esque sources of Shindo’s Blues. It’s a blend of reverb and low-grade drone, tiny microsounds and a tropical layer of half-chirps.
The La’ap Blues fuses the deep South with an Indonesian flavor. A weary bluegrass that is so slippery and composed outside the edges of tradition. It’s meditative in one instance, and can play the vanishing game. And all of a sudden incoming is Running Naked with its hula stylings and poppy flair. The record goes from 20mph to 60 no time. It’s a dramatic melodic shift that grabs your attention with a sense of immediacy, inspiring the curious curl of an eyebrow to imagine what’s coming next. The track runs the length of a typical pop song, and is a bright light in an otherwise very experimental atmosphere which this dives back into via Onibaba, the lengthiest piece on side a at only 4:08. The setting has an vague echo, a hollowed out bass low, and meandering minor actions. It’s a series of small twang and blurry circumstance, calculating its time.
On the other side the eighteen minute Legong/Gods of Bali resides alone. Here we have a gamelan intro and a fuzzy clocktower chime layered atop one another, competing for your attention. One seems distant and strict, while the other, timeless. As a huge fan of the traditional music and instruments of the region this pleases my ears greatly. Described as “A mix of ambient exotica music, silent film soundtrack and distorted rhythms that dance around Mike’s guitar. It keeps reinventing and transforming itself throughout those eighteen minutes, summing up the dexterity and muscle of Mike Cooper’s music of the last two decades” — it is both lulling and invigorating at various intervals, some blurry and others diaphanous.
I’m hopelessly locked into the glowing small gongs and mystical feels. But Cooper also employs reversal tape electronics in the dainty mix of crystal-like tones which change from bright and kaleidoscopic to pallid drunken shades and back again. It’s a psychedelic mix that ends with pure nature squawking, tweeting, stridulating in the great outdoors.