Far back in the misty, decadent crevices of mid-2000s North Brooklyn there existed a ragtag, elegantly bearded band of Stones-worshipers that just about made it. Just about but not quite. The band in question was VietNam, a Michael Gerner-led gaggle of poor musicians in expensive clothes who lived in non-gentrified pioneer territory and cranked out Goats Head Soup-worthy gutter rock in the AM hours in the DIY venues that still existed along Kent Ave before VICE came along and swept them all up into the gentrified slipstream. The individual members were more than likely to be found serving drinks behind the bar at whichever hotspot was in vogue for slumming models that week or day or hour. Speaking of the mighty VICE empire, Vietnam were somehow signed to their Death From Above 1979-hosting record label despite the fact that their music, a rootsy, dingy, and defiantly classic rock leaning brand of rock n’ roll, went directly against the Joy Division and ’80s dance worship that ruled the 11211 zipcode of the time. Of course they failed. And of course they did so in spectacular fashion. There was some friction with Death From Above 1979 (allegedly due to one of DFA’s girlfriends potentially cozying up to a Nam member) and there were far more drug addiction rumors than airplay or blog coverage. The record they put out on VICE, VietNam, remains a junkie rock treasure for the few who know about it, a riff-tastic dose of summertime city grime and shameless Keef ripoff riffs and the type of proudly decadent, margins-courting rock n’ roll that was already long out of favor at the time of its 2007 release.
It would be safe to assume that Gerner would have had a shave and and be trying his hand at a media startup by now, but it turns out this semi-notorious Jesus-lookalike has forged ahead through the unforgiving music industry trenches. This isn’t the most shocking development, however. The most mind-boggling thing about the current state of the now-Austin transplanted Michael Gerner is the type of music he’s creating with his new project, Dallas Acid, which finds him many worlds and legions and realms beyond anything he seemed capable of with VietNam.
How to describe Dallas Acid? Brian Eno if Roxy never took off and he was living in a trailer park taking impure LSD? New Age music stripped completely of the platitudes and yoga-studio soundtrack posturing that often drag down that particular genre? Beach House if the quiet guy on the synths was fully in charge? Tangerine Dream with no budget? In combining with singer/multi instrumentalist Linda Beecroft (best bangs in the biz) and fellow bearded synth conjurer Christian Havins and relocating to a way deep south Austin low-rent alien moonscape ranch Gerner seems to have pulled off the near-impossible: A complete about-face comeback from a busted-dreams band breakup to an entirely new genre and aesthetic makeover that has become far more successful than the original busted-dreams band. Now deep into his 40s (he’s gotta’ be) and with salt and pepper sprinkling his trademark gnome beard and George Harrison circa’ All Things Must Pass locks, Gerner has pawned the Gibsons and taken up with a completely bonkers analog synth he calls The Brain. I don’t recall this man being known as a multi-instrumentalist, let alone a synth geek, and he wasn’t much into anything other than chunky chords in the VietNam days, and yet here he is patching and manipulating the monster of all monster synths as if it were a mere set of bongos. Michael, it’s as if we never even knew you.
It’s tough to stand out as a “star” within something as po-faced and anonymous as the ambient music scene, yet with their glammed-out photo shoots (Beecroft is a pretty well known and excellent photographer), junk store psychedelic stage props, and “hippie dropout on the fringes of the apocalypse” posturing Dallas Acid clearly stand out from the pack. It also helps that they seem to have been beamed in fully formed musically. Limited-run debut Original Soundtrack from 2016 is about as concise a mission statement as you’ll find for a first drop. Final track “Punic Wars” is a thing of lucid mystery and elusive beauty, with Beecroft cooing over a bed of pagan synths that slide in and out of the mix like snakes in tall grass. The slow buildup of “Dreams” makes this one of the few of many songs called “Dreams” that actually lives up to its title. At over an hour and only four tracks deep, Original Soundtrack was an audacious and confident introduction. Perhaps it was this serious-minded grandness that caused DA to pare it down a bit for their next release, the rather accessible and hilarious ode to Beamers, bloody marys, and resorts known as Spa Hunter. Although the Hunter exhibited a playful side to DA that was not readily apparent on the debut, that doesn’t mean it’s not without depth. “Highway 111” and “Soft Rave” in particular have an early-morning joint-in Palm-Springs undercurrent that renders them pitch perfect for moments of abstract longing. It’s really no wonder this record caught the ears of All Saints Records, home to Maestro Eno, giving Gerner a rare second chance on a hip label ten years after VietNam’s demise. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t steal Brian’s girlfriend.
The All Saints deal paid off almost immediately for the unlikely rising Dallas Acid. First came their Pitchfork-approved collab with Laraaji and Arji OceAnanda, Arrive Without Leaving, which found them in strict new age territory for the first time. If you’re into this type of thing, I’m sure it’s great. If you’re into Dallas Acid, you may miss their hints of playfulness and left-field, genre defying excursions. But this is a collaboration with two legends, after all, so it’s only natural Gerner and Co. let their hands off the reigns a bit. Arrive Without Leaving still contains that warm analog space sound Gerner and Havins are becoming known for and it brought these three psych wanderers a larger amount of attention than they’d ever received before, including an NYT mention that certainly pleased their parents and a Euro tour opening for Bill Callahan that saw The Acid gracing stages such as London Apollo and Manchester’s Albert Hall. It had been an impressive climb for a band that started out playing under freeway bridges ala Hawkwind. And it set them up nicely to lower THE BOOM in 2019, their All Saints proper debut The Spiral Arm.
Picking up where Original Soundtrack left off, Spriral is the perfect distillation of the Dallas Acid Sound. Leadoff single “Vacker” is what would be playing in the background as a band of hooded druids marched forward out of a fog-shrouded meadow toward your country vacation house. Beecroft steps out front on vocals much more than the previous two DA records, bringing a removed, icy calm to “Zavana” and the title track, and on “Silk Rain” her incantations come on like a memory on the periphery of your subconscious that you just can’t pin down, a dream scenario you forget instantly upon waking. Gerner seems to have come up with a new array of patches and circuits for The Brain, unfolding layered sound washes designed to wipe all slates clean. On “Circuit Jungle” and the particularly awesome “Emaljets Hav” it sounds as if Gerner and Havins are playing chicken with their synths, weaving in and out and around one another, running and falling back, colliding in sparks, wizards and conjurers and casters of spells hard at work. There are too many “holy shit” moments on Spiral Arm to count; far out music for the headiest of heads only.
And yet somehow Dallas Acid avoid pretension, ducking the “new age” and “ambient” and “chill out” labels like deft featherweights. For such weighty music it’s all very accessible; for such technical proficiency it all sounds do-able (they don’t even use a real studio, for chrissakes); for such inner-leaning vibes it’s all very outward; and for such an anonymous genre it’s all very personality-based with Dallas Acid. This is mediation music aimed not at yoga studios populated by trust fund 30-somethings but at the real-deal lumpen hippie fringes, artists with no permanent addresses, on-up-the-country rural collectives, poets who wear their debt like a crown; the people in the most trouble during these times, souls fluttering in the ether, dangling one step over the void.
Dallas Acid is for YOU.
On June 12th Dallas Acid is releasing The Spiral Ambience, a fully ambient companion album to The Spiral Arm. Check for it on your favorite streaming platforms or order from their site. Sounds heady! First single below.