Richard Bishop is a man prone to experimentation, strange and curious musical diversions and an aversion for typical pop sounds. He comes from the Weird Americas, both New and Old, and carries dual citizenship, acting as a diplomat between nations. He spent two and a half decades in Sun City Girls, stretching psychedelic rock to bizarre and freaky lengths, while offering up several solo releases, primarily instrumental, since 1998. His output has been far more prolific in the past two years, finding Bishop releasing three albums, while closing the chapter on his long-running band after the death of member Charles Gocher earlier this year. This prolific period comes to a climax with the release of Drag City debut Polytheistic Fragments, a wonderful and strange album of intricate and varied instrumentals.
Bishop’s style is one that draws from many sources, ranging from flamenco to Indian ragas, American folk to gypsy caravan. While few of his compositions on Polytheistic Fragments adhere to one easy niche, each one is uniquely Bishop, swishing his influences and techniques around and allowing each bouquet to burst and bloom. Bishop’s harsh strums and delicate plucks in “Cross My Palm With Silver” are impassioned and sublime, while “Hecate’s Dream” finds the man gliding his slide toward some great beyond, opening his reverb treated strings into greater consciousness.
“Elysium Number Five” is reminiscent of Django Reinhardt’s gypsy swing, a style which has come to play a profound influence on Bishop’s work on the whole. The dense “Free Masonic Guitar” seems a summation of many of Bishop’s different styles in one, singular, flamenco-framed piece. “Cemetery Games” is spooky and exotic, driven more by a bassy piano than by guitar, while “Quiescent Return” strips down to a basic, melancholy acoustic folk sound, simple and melodic, and altogether gorgeous. Perhaps the most vibrant track is “Canned Goods & Firearms,” one of a few electric tracks, this instance finding Bishop diving into surf guitar and riffing well into unknown pipelines.
Each song on Polytheistic Fragments sounds as if it were found well within the locked crates of generations past, though from which country or era gets a little vague. Bishop doesn’t belong to the past, present or future so much as he spends equal time traveling between each of them, just enough to capture the wonderful and consistently awe-inspiring glimpses such as these.
Django Reinhardt – Paris 1945
Six Organs of Admittance – The Sun Awakens
Robbie Basho – Venus in Cancer
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.