Written By: Chris Parsons
Baltimore, Maryland’s USSA Pleasuredome has been one of the city’s best original and independent music ventures, clinging right at the heart of the city since its budding independent music scene, as early as 1999. Back then, the project was nothing more than Greg Scelsi and a 4-track recorder, as he sought out an artistic outlet in lieu of his six-year stint as lead singer for the Baltimore experimental hardcore band, Compression. Jump back to present day, and USSA Pleasuredome seems to have grown from analog to digital, and even more so, into a collaboration between Greg and a peer of his from another mutual, experimental rock band; Brian Miller from Mouth Curved Moonlike, which the two were active members of up until 2007. This particular duo realized USSA Pleasuredome‘s debut full-length album, “Icon,” which was released in October 2012. The instrumental project features Greg on guitars and looping, while Brian’s focus is on bass, loops, and engineering the recording sessions, essentially creating hook- and earworm-laden soundscapes propelled by the percussion and layering of Boss’ versatile RC-50 looping station. Besides this release, there is also talk of an anticipated split between USSA P.D. and their local peers in the experimental/indie scene, Time Columns, which sounds like a very promising effort to look out for!
Just from listening to “Icon” in its entirety (8 tracks, 36 minutes), it is clear that the both Greg and Brian come from very eclectic backgrounds of musicianship and taste. And what’s more, their chemistry from having jammed in previous projects keeps the flow tight and deliberate; thus, USSA Pleasuredome seems to creates ”pop” sounds for the experimental junkie, blending elements from all angles including dark psychedelia coupled with the heady electroacoustic explorations of kraut- and post- rock. The opening track “Intro/Sunspots” literally introduces the LP with a loose, swinging soundscape of high frequencies that sets an eerie, yet warm, ambiance that is set-up only to be broken by the drums and bass. After just a few bars, the pace (and pulse) of “Sunspots” is established, and Greg’s swells of heavily distorted guitar start to pile on top of themselves, creating a teetering, yet propelling energy. The sound comes back down in volume to open up for a reprise initiated by sparse bell-tones and thick bass arpeggios, only to be rejoined with Greg’s screaming guitarwork for a final build-up and slight denouement.
“True Arctic Blue” evokes the imagery of an underwater scene, creating a suspended, hanging ambiance though subtle layers of deep, bass sounds and a S.O.N.A.R.-esque siren coaxed from Greg’s guitar which vibe though the brief interlude. The transition into “The Misadventures of Lou Smashfoot” is pure genius as the mood set in “True Arctic Blue” opens up, quite possibly reversed for extra weirdness, into a hard rock drum beat and shimmering, tingling wall-of-sound. Fuzzed-out bass drops into the low-end of the sound and begins to peck away at a subtle, earworm flow, setting the perfect foundation for Greg’s intensely captivating noodlings, very much in the vein of a progressive rock-styled sound. Brian’s bass groove is constant and “feel-good” as Greg’s guitar locks in for a very danceable and earworm moment, that fades out into the track’s closure.
Without a “live” drummer, it can sometimes be hard to dial-in the rhythmic ride of typical rock music. On “Icon” we see USSA Pleasuredome faced with this challenge, but they don’t back down their intensity for a second. On the next few tracks (“South of Floyd,” “Ghost Smoke,” and “Root Wheel Ritual 26″) the emphasis on the percussion aspect of their sound is dropped to a more subtle involvement as the pair showcase their ear for compelling soundscapes with the use of layered drones and sprawling stretches in time. Interestingly, drums show up in the forefront once again on the shortest track of the LP, “Seed,” for another, brief, dancey groove with multiple layers of guitar loops, lasting for all of one, solid minute. “Dreampool Ecstasy” closes out the album, and serves as a perfect clincher incorporating all of the wall-of-sound and forward-driving elements observed earlier on the LP, plus the inclusion of subtle vocals for the first time, folded into the mix, which is a familiar instrumental-styled aesthetic much enjoyed and employed by the shoegazer scene. The fact that “Icon” was recorded live with only the USSA Pleasuredome duo plus their looper/drum machine adds an extra element of impressive success to its musicality, but the real treat from this debut is witnessing the flow and chemistry of Brian and Greg’s musical geniuses working as one succinct entity. The future output of USSA Pleasuredome proves one worth subscribing to, especially as a staple in the local and psych rock communities, as we are left to catch the pair performing up and down the east coast in anticipation of the whatever projects they have in store for 2013, including the split with Time Columns.