Essential New Music: Spiral Wave Nomads’ “First Encounters”

Photo by David Zukauskas

This album may be a first encounter, but it’s by no means a first impression. Guitarist Eric Hardiman (Rambutan, Sky Furrows, Burnt Hills) and drummer Michael Kiefer (More Klementines, Rivener, Drifting North) have not only known of each other’s projects for some time, they are labelmates on the immaculately named These Are Not Records imprint. Appreciation ultimately turned to collaborations, but since one lives in Albany, N.Y., and the other in New Haven, Conn., non-virtual face time wasn’t immediately in the cards. Spiral Wave Nomads’ self-titled debut album was tracked remotely, albeit in such persuasively empathetic fashion that this reviewer mistook it for an in-person encounter. 

Playing together in real time went to the head of the agenda when Hardiman and Kiefer set out to make a second LP, and the results confirm that it was the worth the effort for one of these guys to hit the interstate. First Encounters meets at the intersection of psychedelic jamming and free rock, effectively mapping out territory with a cohesiveness that belies the fact that just two people made these sounds. It helps that Hardiman is capable of coaxing an affecting melodic line out of a sturdy rhythmic progression; add his strategic application of pedals to bolster and reintroduce parts as needed, and he’s quite proficient at broadcasting a complete musical message on his own. Kiefer’s playing is looser than on the debut, responsive as well as propulsive. He’s much more of a colorist this time, floating cymbal tones like cirrus clouds around the looming guitar.

Who knows what post-COVID times will hold for any of us, but here’s hoping that Hardiman and Kiefer can keep meeting up and developing their burgeoning concord.

—Bill Meyer