In Cleveland, as one grows up, paying attention, even in the lightest sense of the word, to bands around town yields some unruly list toted around in the mind. I don’t think I ever saw Songs: Ohia, but I remember seeing bills for that group pretty regularly. Regardless, my proclivity for psych stuff should have secured a rather extensive view of the going’s on in Northeastern Ohio. Apparently, that was a faulty perception.
My first week interacting with folks in order to solidify content and the like brought the name Nick Riff to my attention. Them moniker admittedly lends itself to music, but since what Riff comes up with isn’t all focused on melodies, it’s almost a misnomer. Regardless, counting a thirty plus year career in music – albeit of the most underground variety – should have put this guy on my radar. It didn’t and I’ve suffered for it.
Recently issuing Photon Shift, Riff has been concentrating on getting the word out. But it’s still going to be his earlier work that he’s recalled. Working with everyone from Delerium, a UK based psych imprint, to Cleveland’s own Sonic Swirl Records, Riff has a relatively deep back catalog. Out of the stuff I’ve been able to dig up, though, From the Heart of Oblivion, is at once the most accessible yet retains a tripped out affair.
The most obtuse section of the tape (that’s right, the tape) comes in the form of the eight minute “Time Machine.” Granted, any track bearing that name is bound to be bizarre, but this song ostensibly stops mid-stream and delves into a weird, slow paced series of bleeps and blergs that approximate a spaceship in trouble. Accompanied by the most minimal of percussion charts, the song eventually pushes back into rock territory. Dating itself a bit, the keyboard that becomes the focal point of the track sounds as one might expect any electronic instrument to sound if it was put together during the ‘80s.
Even with that foray into minimalism, a great deal of From the Heart of Oblivion is comprised of pop tracks with enough gnarly guitar or indulgent solos to render it all in psych terms. The tape’s lead off track, “Tripping Over Clouds” – ignore whatever your initial gut feeling says about a song with such a title – cops a bit of pop sucrose from Brit bands and only occasionally reels back to toss off some aggressive bits of guitar wankery. It’s all above boards and Riff’s vocal line is as pleasant as any shoegazing d-bag with a few million bucks in the bank.
It’s hard to tell whether Riff is a prisoner to his own weirdness, which explains his not making it outta Cleveland or if his sporadic investment in music has relegated him to low-key hometown hero. Whatever the answer is, From the Heart… is boss and that’s what counts even if Riff’s discography gets a bit spotty here and there.