Psych album of the week: Sinoia Caves’ The Enchanter Persuaded (2006)

In his own project, Black Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt has free rein to craft his own brand of mostly instrumental synth-based soundscapes

Schmidt

Sinoia Caves’ debut, 2006’s The Enchanter Persuaded, recalls synth-heavy prog, psych, and cinematic sonic masters like Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter, and Wendy Carlos. Photo of Jeremy Schmidt by Emily Cooper.

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Sinoia Caves is the alter ego of Black Mountain’s keyboard player Jeremy Schmidt. In his main gig he expertly weaves his vintage synths and organs in and out of Stephen McBean’s shaggy guitar work. 

In his own project, the Vancouver-based analogue wizard has free rein to meticulously craft his own brand of mostly instrumental synth-based soundscapes. These are sometimes very long-form and sometimes concise. They are always richly textured, though, and place 1970s keyboard instruments into a modern context. 

Sinoia Caves’ debut, 2006’s The Enchanter Persuaded, is a marvelous period piece. It recalls synth-heavy prog, psych, and cinematic sonic masters like Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter, and Wendy Carlos. 

Atmospheric solo debut

Schmidt’s atmospheric solo debut also presages more current analogue revivalists like SURVIVE and Tycho. 

The album begins with 16 minutes of droning menace in “Dwarf Reaching the Arch Wonder”. Gentle percussion tinkles swell and fade along with wind-like breaths as the arrangement takes its time, slowly adding synth bass and low poly synth sustained chords. Eventually more keys are added to the mix and the arrangement begins cycling between two chords. Some cymbal washes appear and disappear before the track fades away with the tinkles and breaths taking us out. 

Second track “Naro Way” introduces some acoustic guitar along with the organs and synths and is reminiscent of easy-going and equally vintage-obsessed French group Air. Vocoder phrases come in and out of the arrangement and a light percussion track keeps things anchored. A calming, pleasant spell is cast until a supercharged lead synth line à la Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” bursts forth. This captivating sound plays us out as the track fades away. 

Pink Floyd’s long shadow

Floyd keyboard legend Richard Wright casts a long shadow over this album. Schmidt has surrounded himself with many of the same instruments Wright used in Floyd’s classic period. His playing in Pink Floyd was never technically showy. Rather, his wheelhouse was creating expressive textures for David Gilmour’s guitar and Roger Waters’ personality to shine (on) above. Schmidt uses these classic tools to fashion his own take on cinematic, slow-burn music that always falls on the correct side of “inspired by” vs. “slavish imitation”. 

“Through the Valley” cruises along on a firm but broken drum pattern and a lilting synth arpeggiation. Schmidt’s vocoder makes another appearance as our trip through this valley proceeds in a stately fashion. 

The cool-as-a-cucumber “The Wicker Chair” clacks along over a stick percussion track, again bringing in some acoustic guitar. A vaguely Eastern-sounding lead part floats over top like a harmonium or a snake charmer’s flute. 

A picture of unease

“Sundown in the New Arcade (Milky Way Echo)” is the penultimate track and it is a picture of unease. Nearly 19 minutes of slow, gently swelling bass synth and Mellotron drones sounds like a slog but it creates a very alluring atmosphere. Both my 82-year-old mother and 8-year-old son found it “interesting” and sat through the whole track without complaint while waiting in traffic one evening. A rare feat, especially for junior, whose tastes generally run more to ’80s and ’90s metal than European-flavoured synthscapes. 

Schmidt inserts some more Floydian sonic references in this goliath of a track. The full-spectrum drones sound very much like the intro to Wish You Were Here’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. His sparse sonar pings and tortured squalls, meanwhile, reimagine some of the key sonic touchstones from Meddle’s equally long-form “Echoes”. 

Some kind of malevolent orb

Final track “Evil Ball”, is John Carpenter all the way, with urgent bass synth pulses and spooky leads.  If you close your eyes it is easy to imagine some kind of malevolent orb inexorably coming your way. With just over a minute left, an eighth-note rhythm track starts up as the final chase and confrontation between protagonist and antagonist takes place. Or so I imagine. 

Therein lies the secret to the success of Sinoias Caves, who in 2010 provided the soundtrack to the psychedelic sci-fi flick Beyond The Black Rainbow

On that album, as on The Enchanter Persuaded, Schmidt’s work is an evocative sound. It leads the listener on a journey through vintage-hued sonics that encourage your imagination to run free. 

What is a Sinoia Cave?

“My grandparents in the U.K. had an old photograph in their house of the Sinoia Caves (it’s in Zimbabwe) which I was always enamoured with as a kid, it always seemed kind of nebulous and mysterious to me, and I’ve always been somewhat obsessed with the kind of impenetrable surface world of old photographs.”  (Jeremy Schmidt, Alienated In Vancouver blog, 2012) 

These caves were renamed Chinhoyi Caves in 2013.

In his own words

“Psychedelia in one form or another seems to have always been at the centre of my musical orbit, so to speak…” (Jeremy Schmidt, same interview as above)

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