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Ak'chamel, "A Mournful Kingdom of Sand"

A Mournful Kingdom of SandThe latest from this shapeshifting and anonymous southwestern psych duo marks both their return to Akuphone and the first proper follow up to 2020's landmark The Totemist. To some degree, Ak'Chamel revisit roughly the same distinctive stylistic terrain as their last LP, approximating some kind of otherworldly and psychotropic collision of Sun City Girls and Sublime Frequencies. That said, Ak'Chamel do sound a hell of a lot more like a mariachi band soundtracking a jungle puppet nightmare this time around and that festively macabre vibe suits them quite nicely. The band might see things a little differently themselves, as this album is billed as "a perfect soundtrack for the desertification of our world," but experiencing this lysergic Cannibal Holocaust-esque mindfuck is probably just the thing for helping someone appreciate the wide-open spaces and solitude of desert life. In keeping with that desert theme, there are plenty of prominent Middle Eastern melodies and instruments on the album, but Ak'Chamel is singularly adept at dissolving regional boundaries (and possibly dimensional ones as well) in their quest for deep, exotic, and oft-uncategorizable psychedelia.


The album opens in deceptively straightforward fashion, as the first minute of "The Great Saharan-Chihuahuan Assimilation" starts with a minor key Spanish guitar and hand percussion vamp. However, subtle signs of unreality gradually creep in (such as the eerie whistle of throat-singing) before the piece blossoms into a spacious and melodic interlude of Tex-Mex-style surf twang. The following "Clean Coal is a Porous Condom" is similarly musical (if unfamiliar), as Ak'Chamel sound like some kind of outernational supergroup trading Latin, Indian, and surf-inspired licks over a pleasantly lurching "locked groove"-style vamp. Both pieces are quite likable, but the album does not start to wade into the psychedelic deep end until the third piece (the colorfully titled "Amazonian Tribes Mimicking The Sound of Chainsaws With Their Mouths"). Unusually, it is a jaunty yet bittersweet accordion-driven piece at its heart, but the central motif is beautifully enhanced by layers of vivid psychotropic sounds (flutes, voices, ululating, eerie whines, pipe melodies), resulting in something that feels like a festive collision between The Wicker Man and a haunted street fair at the edge of the Amazon.

Happily, Ak'Chamel keep that phantasmagoric momentum going without interruption for the remainder of the album. In "Ossuary from the Sixth Extinction," a mournful banjo-like melody and tropical-sounding percussion lead into a harrowing rabbit hole of curdled pipe melodies, quivering strings, and an immersive mass of chants and howls. Elsewhere, the following "Soil Death Tape Decay II" begins life as dueling Middle Eastern-inspired oud solos over a bed of buzzing drones, but unexpectedly transforms into an obsessively looping melody that passes through various stages of tape destruction as voices wail and ululate around it. "Sheltering Inside a Camel" takes an even more sustained plunge into the hallucinatory (it is the longest piece on the album at nearly 11-minutes), as desert psychedelia, sinister puppet-like voices, throat singing, and a goddamn horn section collide in singularly disorienting fashion. The album then winds to a close with one last darkly hallucinatory gem, as "The Cabinet of the Atomic Priesthood" unexpected transforms from something resembling choir practice at a demonic cathedral into a sublime coda of slow, exhalation-like chords; flickering mindfuckery; and eerie pipe melodies that fade in and out of focus. Admittedly, Ak’Chamel do exceed my personal bombast tolerance at times (particularly in the closing piece), but they invariably wind up somewhere compelling and it a delight to find them in such melodic and focused form again. As with The Totemist before it, A Mournful Kingdom of Sand makes a rare and ideal entry point into this duo’s oft-prickly, bizarre, and enigmatic oeuvre and affirms once again that they are one of the most consistently fascinating and creative bands in the psych scene right now.

Listen here.