Published Apr 27, 2020Although Sir Richard Bishop's solo records have the same omnivorous eclecticism and formidable virtuosity as his work with prolific experimental legends Sun City Girls, he mostly eschews the band's theatrical freak-outs for a more restrained, classical sound. On Oneiric Formulary, his first album in five years, he successfully pulls off a whole range of established styles without ever sounding like anyone other than himself.
Unlike 2015's Tangier Sessions and 2009's The Freak of Araby, which were each based around a specific theme, Oneiric Formulary introduces something different on almost every track. As usual, hearing Bishop's unparallelled technical prowess can be a pleasure in itself. The pastoral, John Fahey-indebted bluegrass of "Enville" and dexterous flamenco of "Black Sara" are standouts here, both equally stunning examples of his mastery of seemingly every guitar idiom in the book.
Bishop's intense focus and repetition often allow him to take these conventional forms to some unexpected, revelatory places. For example, on "Mit's Linctus Codeine Co." (initially recorded as an advertising jingle for a particularly relaxing cough syrup that Sir Richard enjoyed while travelling around India), a straightforward, repeating chord progression and jazzy melody are disrupted halfway through as the guitars briefly approximate a skipping record, hitting the same few notes and fret slides over and over until they eventually start moving again. An outlier track is the dark 9-minute soundscape "Graveyard Wanderers," whose noisy ambience nevertheless has the same attention to space and texture as the other pieces, and works well with the short, propulsive raga "Dust Devils" that immediately follows it.
Oneiric Formulary may lack overall thematic consistency, and could benefit from Bishop letting loose a little more, but it's satisfying to hear a master of his craft putting his own stamp on some timeless sounds. (Drag City)