A few winters ago when I lived in Portland, a friend of mine purchased the illegal psychedelic DMT from behind the counter of an adult video store, smoked it in a crack pipe and subsequently spoke to a Space Lord for the duration of his five or so minute trip. He recounted this story with a nonchalance that made it sound like something any normal, tax-paying citizen might do on a Saturday afternoon. “There are no side effects …,” he informed me, before explaining some people suffered latent psychosis afterward (yeah, right, definitely not a side effect). Much to my psychonaut friend’s chagrin, I passed on a free Space Lord consultation.

I mention this because A) Portland is a weird fucking town in ways in which the TV show “Portlandia” only scratches the surface on and B) the new Pfarmers album featuring vocals from Portland’s own Danny Seim (Menomena) sports the kind of wacko storyline that could only be hatched from a psychedelic experience brought to you by one of Stumptown’s finest purveyors of XXX films. Seim’s explanation of Gunnera, his collaborative experimental rock effort with drummer Bryan Devendorf (The National) and horn player Dave Nelson (David Byrne, Sufjan Stevens), conjures up three letters – WTF! – often associated with DMT experiences.

“The record is about a dream I had,” Seim said, “where I’m reluctantly accepting a fear of drowning by focusing on being reincarnated as a giant Gunnera plant, which thrive on the banks of rivers (specifically the Jordan River i.e. the Biblical promised land) after I paint myself gold and sink to the bottom like the El Dorado of South American folklore.” I mean, what if life is nothing but a dream and Seim is dreaming about giant plants and golden paint inside of a dream? (Holy shit, did it just get weird?)

Gunnera starts with a seven-plus minute instrumental titled “Benthos” featuring, at brief intervals, a horn that bellows into the abyss, warm synths and circling chimes. It’s baffling why Pfarmers would select a track in which almost nothing happens as its first impression on listeners. This leadoff choice becomes even more confounding when single “You Shall Know the Spirit” arrives next with its overcast synths and insistent, push and pull percussion to take the listener on a seductive, if somewhat dark ride. Seim’s refrain of “What lies hidden on Sunday’s rolling papers?” might be the most Portland line of 2015.

What constitutes the rest of Gunnera’s seven-track, 40-minute sonic buffet is neither as cold and tasteless as “Benthos” nor as ripe for second and third helpings as “You Shall Know the Spirit”. The album’s other single, “The Ol’ River Gang,” creates an immediate sense of menace and suspense, merging Devendorf’s pace with horns piggybacking off synths that sound like they’re navigating a maze and Seim’s warnings of “there’s something in the water”. In contrast, on “El Dorado” Seim’s repeated staid calls for the title phrase sound like a muted cry for help in the midst of an aimless exploration.

Maybe Seim just needs to talk to a Space Lord. Maybe he already has. Maybe that’s what led him down this blasted path in the first place.

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