Essential New Music: Roy Montgomery’s “Island Of Lost Souls”

Forty years ago, Flying Nun Records released its first single. The Pin Group’s “Coat” imagined a world of sound and spirit steeped in the melancholic monochromes of the Velvet Underground and German black-and-white films. If you read MAGNET, even if you haven’t heard “Coat,” you’ve heard the aesthetic it helped to synthesize.

Roy Montgomery, the guy who played guitar on that single, has engaged in a comet-like dance with public music-making ever since. When the orbit’s close, you’ll feel the pull; when it’s far, you won’t sense him for years. In the past half decade, Montgomery has been making records at an especially brisk and sustained pace, and he’s capping the endeavor with a series of four LPs, which will be released one per quarter in 2021. 

Island Of Lost Souls, the first installment, is a collection of electric-guitar instrumentals. In style, they recall the epic compositions that Montgomery issued on 1995’s Scenes From The South Island and 1996’s Temple IV. But while those earlier albums expressed extremes of exhilaration and longing inspired by spiritually charged places, these new pieces repay some debts. Each celebrates a deceased creative individual who in some way affected Montgomery, although sometimes in oblique fashion.

“Cowboy Mouth (For Sam Shepard)” radiates a joyfulness that’s quite at odds with the dire scenario laid out in Shepard’s play, but it may express how much the stage-bound drama has meant to Montgomery, who’s also worked in the theater. Likewise, “Soundcheck (For Adrian Borland)” is nowhere near as emotionally raw as the underappreciated English singer it honors. The other two tracks steer closer to the figures they pay tribute to. “Unhalfmuted (For Peter Principle)” boils down the ineffable drama of Principle’s band Tuxedomoon to a swirl of echoing chords and swirling synthesizer. And “The Electric Children Of Hildegard Von Bingen (For Florian Fricke)” has the same aura of beatitude that Fricke’s band Popol Vuh achieved while soundtracking Werner Herzog’s movies.

What the four Island Of Lost Souls compositions share is an economy of means; all you hear is a few electric-guitar tracks and a dab of electronic icing. The melodies seem to rise from Montgomery’s delay-drenched strumming source unseen, like the first hint of the sun glimpsed above a forest canopy.

—Bill Meyer