Before forming VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System), bassist Van Conner was a founding member of Screaming Trees. Of the many Seattle-area “grunge” bands, Screaming Trees were always my favorite, and Connor’s bass was an extremely important factor in that legendarily volatile group. The latest release from VALIS is titled Minds Through Space and Time, and has just been issued in a beautiful, limited edition, colored-vinyl package.
VALIS are something of a latter-day power trio. Vocal duties are shared with Van’s brother Patrick Connor, who also provides stunning psychedelic guitar. The powerhouse drums of Matt VandenBerghe round out the threesome.
Minds Through Space and Time is the fourth full-length release from VALIS, and it is a recording that was made for the vinyl medium. Side one is subtitled “Universe,” and side two is called “Brain Cell.” Fans of the brilliant science fiction author Philip K. Dick should recognize VALIS as the title of one of his final novels. As the subtitles make clear, the band share Dick’s interest in both outer and inner space.
The opening “Universe Inside My Mind” is perfect, as it addresses both sides of the subject. The song displays the qualities of this band that I have always admired. This is pure power-trio stuff, classic in its own way, and done entirely on their terms. Producer Jack Endino has managed to capture a sound that reminds me of a lost psychedelic classic, without ever sounding derivative. Even though this is Van’s band, Patrick’s guitar is often the star of the show. His solo during this song is brilliant, as is the one on “Slaves of the Gods,” just to name a couple. “Slaves of the Gods” also features a guest spot by another member of the Connor family, Harrison – playing French horn.
There are quite a number of guests on the record, but the most prolific is keyboardist Andrew Davenhall. Davenhall appears on six of the nine cuts. His performance on “Space Station” may be his most impressive of the lot. For a moment there I anticipated the voice of Greg Lake intoning “Welcome back my friends…” but no, this is no ELP cop. If “Space Station” could be compared to anything, it should be Lemmy-era Hawkwind. That is one thing I have always liked about Van’s music, his version of “space-rock” is never passive star-gazing. He trips with a vengeance.
As mentioned earlier, “Brain Cell” is the subtitle of the second side, and one might call it a “journey to the center of the mind.” The first tune is “Secret Ascension,“ in which the band explores a little less frenetic path. The piece is quite effective though, and is made all the more memorable with the slide guitar of Ben “Chovie D” Jones. “Evil Possessor” follows, and is a return to a more aggressive form for VALIS. Steve Fisk adds some fantastic Mellotron to the cut, and it is always great to hear him, no matter what he is doing. For those who may not know, Fisk produced the first three Screaming Trees albums, so he and Van go back a long way.
Speaking of old friends, older brother Gary Lee Connor appears on “Tortured Times,” playing “Space Guitar.” I laughed when I first saw the credit, but after hearing the song, I got it. Gary Lee’s guitar is one-of-a kind, and sounds amazing here. The blues-inspired “Blue April” is the perfect closer for this album, as it sums up the appeal of VALIS in many ways. Despite the various “space” imagery, and the P.K. Dick association, this is a band with broad horizons. “Blue April” proudly confirms this.
Although vinyl accounts for a very small segment of the music market, sales in the format are actually on the rise. It is true that the portability factor is important to many though, which VALIS has addressed by including a free download code with the purchase of the LP. I think this is an excellent way of allowing fans to have it both ways, as the colored vinyl is extremely cool, as is the full-sized cover art. Minds Through Space and Time is also available on good old compact disc as well. No matter what format one chooses though, this is a recording that is definitely worth checking out.