To judge the Breath Collective only by their name, their appearance and the unfailingly spiritual terms with which they discuss their music is likely to miss the fact that this is a real, in-your-face rock ’n’ roll band, a progressive psychedelic outfit that wants to take you to those places you’re not supposed to go if the social order is to be maintained. But no one who has ever seen the New Paltz-area band live would mistake them for anything else. Their shows are psychoactive, with or without the lights.
Without sounding anything at all like the Grateful Dead or its derivatives, the Breath Collective does fall somewhere on the jam spectrum in that their Moon-or-bust, nothing-less-will-do goal is total ensemble liftoff: those moments of egoless coherence and peaking that Jerry Garcia called “golden yummies” and that Phil Lesh said last “seconds on end.” This ecstatic intent has nothing to do with genre, with drugs or even with improvisation necessarily; classical musicians, chained to the notes and sober as priests, court it every bit as much as this psychedelic mothership does. And the difference between when it is right and when it is not-quite is as subtle as the difference between the notes and the tune.
The best psychedelic rock has always been about the songs and their violation, the forms that get exploded and repaired in the course of the freakout. The first generations of psych bands inherited their forms from blues and, just as often, from country and folk music. In the Breath Collective, you’ll hear exactly none of that. Their musical language befits their years, descending from the ’90s: alt/rock, some hard funk undercurrents and most of all the melismatic, art-rock raga of Radiohead and Jeff Buckley’s one complete album. Add to that some of the involving pattern art of the kind associated with the world music and New Age genres and you’ll have the Breath Collective recipe, more or less.
The Breath Collective comprises the guitarist brothers Tyler and Evan Mason (the former sings and writes; the latter plays the tricky bits) and the fluid, flexi-pulse rhythm section of Nicholas DePalma on drums and Mark Reynolds (also known as Prismatic Mantis) on bass. The paradox of the Breath Collective’s sound is that it is tribal, ecstatic, droning, modal and expansive, but at the same time highly precise and arranged. This is why they are so hard to peg, and so difficult to dismiss as one musical shtick or another. They surprise with cross-purposes.
As befits their name, the Breath Collective has gone communal in their attempt to finance their debut studio album, availing themselves of the Kickstarter model and calling on the collaboration of the community that they have built in several years of tireless performing. The album is being produced by bassist Reynolds, whose own frenetically complex and detailed music under the Prismatic Mantis name might give us some indication of how the Breath Collective intends to develop and decorate their core psychedelic sound in the studio.
Kickstarter campaigns come with video teasers, written rationales, sound samples and tiered incentives for donors. And the Breath Collective’s campaign has all of that and more. For the breakdown, visit www.kickstarter.com and search “The Breath Collective.” The campaign is nearing its modest all-or-nothing goal of $3,800, but time is short: The campaign closes on January 7. For more information on the band, visit www.thebreathcollective.com.