In search of a sonic utopia.



Like all great cities of the world, Barcelona has a look. It’s very distinctive, made up of fantastic melty curves and intricate mosaics. It’s like a lost level on Mario World, and it’s all the doings of Antoni Gaudí. Prince Rama’s trip to the city is fleeting to say the least, meaning that they won’t get to see Gaudí’s great structures this time around, and it’s a shame because the Brooklyn trio are tied to the architect in a roundabout way, and they’re inspired by architecture like others are by bands of the past. “His stuff is so next level,” says band leader Taraka Larson. “There is the famous quote: ‘architecture is frozen music’, but I feel like the inverse is true as well – music is the architecture of the invisible.”

Together with her sister Nimai and ex-boyfriend Michael Collins, Taraka is currently on an endless European tour, taking the band’s shamanic, mantra-driven psych hymns from one town to the next with little-to-no time for site-seeing. Someone who shares her enthusiasm for Gaudí, though, is Paul Laffoley – an outsider artist and architect who designed the second tower of The World Trade Center and, since September 11 2001, has submitted designs for the replacing Freedom Tower, which Wikipedia tells us was inspired by Gaudí’s Segrada Família.

“I think it was actually modelled on Guadí’s plan for a “Grand Hotel” that never materialised, if I’m not mistaken,” says Taraka.

She’s in a good position to argue, having worked closely with Laffoley for a number of years while at art school. “We both grew to be pretty close friends,” she says. “The way his work combines architecture with music, history with myth, pop culture with occult, and physics with mysticism is totally inspiring to me in terms of creating a true ‘gestaltkunstwerk’, or total artwork.”

Considering these schooled thoughts, Prince Rama wrote ‘Architecture of Utopia’, as Taraka puts it, a record that was “written specifically based on Paul’s diagrams of utopic space.”

She continues: “The idea that utopia can occur whenever there is a realisation of infinity contained in the finite inspired me to try to build a sonic model of utopia via a vinyl record with a locked groove (thus containing infinity).”

‘Architecture of Utopia’ is a cosmic, wildly haunting album, made up of just four songs that point towards the band’s teenage surroundings in a Hare Krishna community in Florida. The more recent ‘Shadow Temple’ (the band’s first album since Animal Collective’s Avey Tare signed them to AC’s imprint Paw Tracks) further delves into Sanskrit chants, cyclic structures, call and response lyrics and an overall spirituality rarely felt from bands booked to play Primavera Sound. When we see them almost close the Vice/Jägermeister stage later, it’s Taraka’s banshee wail and the thunder-drums that pull us in, not the obligatory, trippy projection behind her.

Drugs appear to have played a part in this music, but they haven’t (Taraka hasn’t even tried any, and they don’t interest Nimai or Michael either). There’s something far less cynical at work here, especially where ‘Shadow Temple’’s songs are concerned.

“Our van got broken into 3 days before the end of a 40 day tour,” explain Taraka, “and everything was taken out of it. It was a really humbling experience and a total blessing in retrospect. So many friends, family, and total strangers donated money and equipment after that to help get us back on our feet. What kind of album do you make out of instruments that were given to you out of love? That was the kind of album that we had to make.”

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 29 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2011

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