I hope that somewhere behind the quantum foam, in some possible universe, Isaac Newton is cranking the Thin Lizzy. While his initial reaction to Lynott and company might have bordered on terror, he would at least have appreciated the subtle pas de deux of harmonic leads and how lads who don’t pay attention to geometry in school often come to grasp it in other ways.
Where one man hears howling wolves, another hears the music of the spheres. This Salt Lake City band plays seriously intricate metal in the vein of the Champs, minus the pensive moments and Concentricky interludes, but with parts that are quite beautiful—in an intro’s-almost-over, death-metal-dead-ahead kind of way.
There must be one lobe in the brain that handles all the epic stuff: Middle Earth and Choose Your Own Adventure books and The Ring of the Nibelung and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. This is metal as a worldview—a balm for that Joseph Campbell lobe, with a stimulating disconnect between Teutonic song titles like “The Invader” and “Victory Runs through Our Blood Like Ice in the Caves of Midnight” and the fact that there are almost no vocals. Great to hear a metal record that inspires and actually lifts your mood like this one does. Top notch. Now where’s that Thin Lizzy?
Out of the Shadow
English has got some truly awful vowel sounds that have to occasionally be sung around: “eh” as in “red,” “aah” as in “cat,” “uh” as in “lump,” and “er” as in “bird,” to name the big ones. Words containing these sounds never sound as pathetically, nakedly awful as they do hanging at the end of a line or verse in a mellow, folksy number like Rogue Wave’s “Every Moment.” A singer can often charm his or her way out of a dangling “er” as in “bird” simply by being British, but rare is the non-British singer who can pull the soft “r” off without sounding like a jumped-up twit. Clever singers simply find ways around it. Colin Meloy of the Decemberists sings the word “daughter” almost like “dot-oyr,”—half soft boy, half Bowery tough, just like a character in their song “The Soldiering Life.”
Zach Rogue of San Francisco’s Rogue Wave never tries not to sound like a soft boy, palatalizing his uh- and er-words into fruity little trills. Why is this important? Because if you can’t get into his British public school vocals, and get into them quick, you’re going to miss out on a sparkling, sunny little gem of a pop record with upright bass, pedal steel and tasteful Moog trimmings. Shins comparisons, and maybe a few Decemberists ones, are practically inevitable. And not wholly unwarranted.
Remember the Tricky cover of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” from about 10 years ago? You know: “Got a letter from the government the other day/I opened it and read it/It said they were suckers”? If you thought Martina (the mononym she went by then) was something more than just a competent stand-in for Chuck D, you definitely want that voice nuzzling your ear again with Anything, a mature and surprisingly varied collection of songs, moods and emotions.
Topley-Bird’s naturally sultry voice is a nice change from all the affected “ooh, baby, sex me up” huskiness so popular with female R&B artists these days. When she’s harmonizing with herself, you hear overtones of Billie Holiday; unaccompanied, she sounds like a soft-spoken but tough-as-nails Sahf Lahndan cockney broad ready to put up her dukes behind the boozer. Things get off to a slow, simmering start with the title track, escalate with a Tricky duet on “Ragga,” and explode on “Need One”—like “Black Steel,” a very masculine song that falls squarely into Lenny Kravitz big-anthem territory. “Soul Food,” which follows, has got to be one of the most erotic songs ever recorded, and the wistful, melancholy “I Still Feel” brings it down again. Toss in some spooky atmospherics and a whopping load of pantherine Massive Attack bass lines, and you’ve got the makings of a steamy musical evening.
Comets on Fire
OK, when there’s a guy in the band whose only job is to run the Echoplexes and the oscillators, you know you’re dealing with some industrial-strength burnout rock. Comets on Fire is a throwback in the best sense, blazing a trail of tungsten-heavy, butt-ugly stoner psych across a landscape littered with cowering, OP-shirt-wearing Fu Manchu clones.
Think Spine of God-era Monster Magnet, before Dave Wyndorf and company started vying for heavy rotation on MTV: brain-fried, greasy-haired and sunburned, the kind of record that can destroy a party for the squares who are just in it for a mellow high. There’ll be plenty of time for the pretty passages later, once everyone is done combing through the orange shag to find their teeth, but Comets on Fire gets right down to business on track one, “The Bee & the Crackin’ Egg,” a mind-splattering psychedelic wormhole to a parallel universe where all public signage is rendered in hyper-articulated Haight-Ashbury font and the acid has always been brown.
How might music history have turned out differently if Blue Cheer and the Warlocks had pooled their resources early on? The Blue Cathedral is one possible answer to that musical question. Music like this defies all stoner rock trends, and hallelujah for that, brother.