Eyes Like Saucers, Still Living In The Desert

On the back cover of this release Jeff Knoch, the American musician who goes under the name Eyes Like Saucers, poses for a photo with the tools that he used to make the album. These consisted of a VW camper van, a harmonium, a glockenspiel, a four-track cassette recorder, a few other bits and pieces and, crucially, a dog. Knoch’s dog Parmalee, to be precise, of whom he was clearly very fond. His website carries the sad news that Parmalee has recently passed on, and also gives a quotation from the French theorist Hélène Cixous: “Meeting a dog you suddenly see the abyss of love. Such limitless love doesn’t fit our economy. We cannot cope with such an open, superhuman relation.” In many respects Hélène Cixous needed to get laid, but back to the photo: whether consciously or not, it echoes the one on the back cover of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, showing the arsenal of touring equipment that the Floyd used to lug around. Knoch’s comparatively meagre set of gear is a nice reflection of the simplicity and directness of this record.

Turning next to the front cover, we find images of four plants which, it may be assumed, sustained Knoch during the making of the record: coffee, tea, tobacco and opium. The useful sleevenotes (of which more later) relate how Knoch and Parmalee set forth for the desert in the aforementioned camper van, even though Knoch “did not know how to drive, did not have a license to drive, and was severely epileptic.” It’s perhaps fortunate, therefore, that he not only returned from his expedition in one piece, but did so with the music that makes up Still Living In The Desert safely on tape.

The rich pickings provided by the cover don’t end there, either, for Knoch also reprints a quotation by the late Velvet Underground singer Nico: “I don’t know how I can live… I live like an exile.” Knoch adopts Nico’s chosen instrument, the harmonium, as his principal sound source, and makes lyrical reference to her Desert Shore album in the record’s final cut, “Desert Song (Where Land And Water Meet).” This song is dedicated to “the one person who has always made sense to me”; the person is not named, but Nico would be a reasonable guess.

What’s clear from all of the above is that Jeff Knoch (formerly of prog-psych outfit Urdog) is not the most socially gregarious fellow in the world. And this impression is reinforced by the music, which evidences extreme, willed introspection with its extensive use of wintry harmonium drones. It’s this sound that dominates the record – wheezy, chilling and filled with an icy permanence. Knoch adds organ, toy piano and glockenspiel to some tracks, but these never manage to shake off the sense of solipsism and foreboding.

The album feels indescribably moving through its doomed attempts to arrive at a zone of functional communication with the listener. Buried deep in the mix, the vocals on “Fruhling der Seele,” “Desert Song” and the Robert Wyatt cover “Sea Song” are only partly audible, reaching out in the hope of understanding. On the lengthy “Numinosity,” spacey oscillator effects sound like efforts to tune into the right frequency, as if trying to find some means of escape from the lowering presence of the harmonium. Ultimately the drone and its host the desert win out, enveloping the listener in clouds of monophonic dust and cementing the final words of Knoch’s sleevenotes: “Those who return must sacrifice their former language – that is, the language of everyday communication and worldly affairs – so in a sense, there is no return.”

(originally published in The Sound Projector 17, 2008)

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