Sudden Little Drops has been recently resurrected so I could talk about music! Check out the new Albums of 2011 post below, and hopefully there will be more new content coming soon.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Deep Eddy


You press play and these are the first sounds to emerge:

A gurgling, spluttering sound, like water. Waves of tape hiss. The distant drone of a violin, half-submerged beneath the bubbling and hissing. A guitar being tuned. The brief shuffle of sticks over a muffled drum skin. The sound of children laughing. A man’s gently lilting voice fading into the mix: this is the Deep Eddy Swimmin’ Pool in Austin, Texas...


Geology allows for recreation. The furious Colorado River is paused, held, where over the years the rocks have weathered. A great hole in the limestone causes the water’s current to form an eddy. Surrounded by steep river banks, the eddy is strangely deep. It attracts people to it, becoming a sort of swimming hole for visitors.

1902. Mary and Henry Johnson inherit the land from their father and open Deep Eddy Resort. Attractions include campsites, picnic areas, rental cottages and a cable ride into the river. The water is calm and people are not afraid. The years pass.

1915. A.J. Eilers, prominent and wealthy businessman, buys the land off the Johnsons and builds a concrete swimming pool, the first of its kind in Texas. The following year the Deep Eddy Bathing Beach opens. Attractions include silent movies, a ferris wheel, carousel rides, a 70-foot slide, a 50-foot diving tower and trapeze-swings over the pool. The star attraction: Lorena’s Diving Horse Show, where, just for kicks, a mule takes the 50-foot plunge off the diving board to its death in the water.

1935. The City of Austin purchases the park for $10,000. Two weeks later, a massive flood on the Colorado River devastates the region, filling the pool with mud and debris. It is out of action for a year, while the people of the city come together to rebuild it. It reopens as Deep Eddy Swimming Pool.

2007. The pool bears little resemblance to the carnival of horrors it once was. The mystical ‘swimming hole’ is long gone; in its place, a shallow kids pool, wide and square, with lap lanes at the far end. Yet its cool, spring-fed water still provides the same allure as it has for a hundred years. It is still a place where people gather, a point of community deep in the heart of Austin, where the afternoons slowly unravel.

Except, none of this has happened yet. Let me tell you the story of how it all got there.


The first Rifle Range record was called Songs for Bears to Dance To, an allusion to Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’, which I’ve never read, and Robert Cormier’s ‘Tunes for Bears to Dance To’, which I have. It was the record that established their sound, announcing to their singular audience the presence of a band with spiralling, elegant guitar lines, sleepy drumming, warm washes of texture and colour.

I cannot quite remember how they emerged, this Rifle Range. It was not a single dramatic moment, though that would have made for a better story. Rather, they came gradually, pieced together from a blurry multiplicity of daydreams. There were others who arose from these reveries too: Y Lac (pronounced ‘why lack’) were almost absurdly prolific, spilling out these ambitious records, EPs, side projects, solo albums, all the time brooding with melancholy and atmosphere. Then there was Lanterns, a genreless collective, making vital, explosive, experimental soundscapes. Each grew as my own tastes grew. As I discovered jazz and electronics and drones, so did they.

But Rifle Range were, I guess you might say, the most elemental, the closest to spilling over into real life. Their music was austere but graceful; it never outstayed its welcome and its power was subtle. They seemed to genuinely write their own material, as if I had no control over the direction it might take.


This was long before the pool, of course. At this point the fascination was building in incomprehensible waves, sweeping over and under and over, while simultaneously the music developed; elsewhere, unlocated.

I once told this girl how I was fascinated by pictures of empty swimming pools and how I often had dreams about them. I couldn’t explain why. She laughed. She’d make frequent reference to it for the rest of our time together. I felt like I was revealing a deep, dark secret.

Still, I’d not made any connections yet. Nothing fit together. I was filled with vague desires, inclinations towards a kind of transcendence I could not find or understand. My attempts at explanation were too abstract, swirling; they needed something concrete to contain them, for them to lie in and be still.


The second Rifle Range record was imaginatively titled Sophomore, in all ways a darker, more serious record, with utterly perfect song titles like ‘In the Nocturnal House’ and ‘The Player’s Gold’, titles so brilliant I can’t help but hope to one day turn them into poems, though it’s likely no words could ever do them justice and I’m too afraid to try.


After this, a long break. It was difficult to see where Rifle Range might go next and they almost got washed away amongst other things. Then something saved them.

I first came across the photograph browsing around the internet for images of empty or near-empty swimming pools. This photograph changed everything; it changed who this band were, it affected their chemistry. It was the clearest distillation yet of my fascination with pools: water – fluid, magnetic – held in the eddy of this pool, made still. The water was that chlorine blue, the colour deepened where the shadows of the great surrounding cottonwoods fell across it. Behind it, more cottonwoods stretched up, their green intense against the blue of the sky and the water. Everything was balanced. Power lines cut across the top left corner, mirroring the line of the pools edge. A man was half-way through climbing out.

This image eventually came to grace the front cover of the third Rifle Range album, their masterpiece, unquestionably the most perfect album that has ever or will ever be recorded. It was called, simply, Deep Eddy.


Then of course! It was clear. Where else could my Rifle Range be from but Austin, Texas? Austin, the home of South by Southwest, of Stars of the Lid, of the Keep Austin Weird movement. I could see them, drinking coffee in their Juniper Street apartments, spreading Round Rock Honey on granary toast and stuffing it in their blurry, indistinct faces. I could see them, battering out rhythms in the Cathedral of Junk on the old porcelain sinks, on the bicycle wheels and lawnmowers. There were future albums built into its landmarks, there in the rich history of the city. Perhaps they’d record Eurycea Sosorum, a multi-part string-laden tribute to the Barton Springs salamander. Or perhaps they’d loosen their song-structures and play a more stripped back, instinctive set, call it Hippie Hollow Park, where they’d launch it by playing a gig in the nude.

Ah, Austin. It was the place. Austin where the cedars breathe pollen dust that looks like smoke in the winter, and it drifts out over the pool.

8. THE POOL (Reprise)

Deep Eddy, the album, was launched at Deep Eddy, the pool on 2nd June, 2007. The band played all ten tracks from the album, masterly sequencing intact, and visitors lounged in the pool to listen, getting some free coffee from Mozart’s Coffee and enjoying the sun for a little bit, enjoying the music. The songs floated over the water.

If only you could have been there. The music, fluid as the water, pulling you under, till you never want it to end. The melodies rising, the sounds rippling. And you feel it coming over you, that longing. Your hairs stand reaching out your skin, the walls of sound swelling, dissolving, chords resolving from major into minor into major into minor. The fragile coda shoots a shiver right up you spine – and you feel its frail, icy climb working its way up your back like a droplet of water in reverse.

And as you listen, under the infantile cloak of the music, the pool is drained and emptied of its water, and people shovel mud and debris into the pool, and the flood pulls it back out again, and the mule leaps from the water to the diving board, and children are sucked up the 70 feet of the slide, and the pool passes back from A.J Eilers to the Johnsons, and the water swirls faster and faster, the deep eddy becoming shallow, the sediments of rock rejoining the limestone; only all of this is happening at once, simultaneously, in one great cataclysm of sound.


The last track on Deep Eddy is called ‘Whales’. It is built of layers and layers of droning guitars and sampled vocals, gradually swelling and rising like water filling up a pool. The guitars, all drenched in reverb, ripple and spume. Around them, white horses of noise build and peak. And the voices and guitars struggle and are covered in a deluge of distortion and wrath. Then finally, as its six minutes have almost come to a close, the noise all falls away and the quiet guitars are left cycling through the chords a few times. And then it ends.

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