The latest from Nebula and Hawkwind 

Hawkwind Family Box Hypnotic/Cleopatra

The phrase “stoner rock” means something different to everybody. For some, it’s Fu Manchu, Kyuss and, now, Nebula. For others it’s Ween or old Sebadoh or even the Byzantine prog excursions of the Champs, whose 1997 double LP Home Taping Is Recording Music added a completely new chapter on what to listen to when you’re sitting getting in touch with your elbow for six hours. It can be just about anything, really.

Does anyone else remember Utterance Tongue or Rein Sanction? Rein Sanction was an awesome band except for one thing: the intolerably strident vocals. The guitar tone was huge, mastered super-hot and scuzzified beyond recognition—I mean, they made Fu Manchu sound like the Kingston Trio—but every time the guy opened his mouth, his piping, earnest voice just wrecked everything. Which got me thinking about what sets apart the current cream of the stoner rock crop: They sound like they aren’t trying at all. Fu Manchu packs a mother wallop, but you get the feeling they’re doing it with their eyes closed, cruising down some invisible inner cannabinolic highway they don’t even have to think about.

This Hawkwind boxed set has been making eyes at me for a couple months, so I finally broke down and bought it. I must not have been paying much attention, either, since it turns out only one of the four discs is actually Hawkwind, and a “Best of…” at that. The other three—Spiral Realms’ Solar Wind, Zero Gravity’s Space Does Not Care, and Nik Turner’s Prophets of Time—are actually Hawkwind-related projects featuring former and current members, and most of the music contained therein is undistinguished garbage. The material ranges from really awful techno crap to Moog-heavy retro-prog noodling unfit for even a triple-live Yes album.

The Hawkwind disc is interesting for reasons largely historical, and really only footnotes at that: This was Lemmy Kilmeister from Motorhead’s first band. Apart from the fact that half of their songs never seem to end, Hawkwind’s reputation as forefathers of the genre seems largely undeserved. It’s boring and, even worse, it’s much too chirpily busy to establish the proper ambience. What’s commendable, though, is that the band arranged for an especially earnest stoner to write the liner notes, resulting in gems like “Jimi [Hendrix] came outside and talked with Hawkwind, but his state of depression kept him from jamming with them.” Uh, yeah. (AS)

Nebula To the Center Sub Pop Records

Nebula, are like, totally rad. Their latest, To the Center is on Sub Pop, and reminds me of the days when Mudhoney and Sub Pop ruled all hell, only this Mudhoney is like, more stoned, or something. Steve Turner, of the real Mudhoney, has been very vocal about how much he loves this band, writing reviews and articles about them in The Rocket and on the Nebula website.

Truth be told, the Nebula/ Mudhoney comparative likeness isn’t nearly as interesting as the Nebula/Fu Manchu rivalry, which began some time ago when Mark Abshire (what a perfect name for a bass player!) and drummer Ruben Romano (what a perfect name for anything!) decided they’d had enough of the Fu experience and left somewhat acrimoniously. It’s hard to tell how Eddie Glass, the new Fu Manchu guitarist played into all this, but he decided to get out while the getting was good and formed Nebula with Abshire and Romano.

Their debut, Let it Burn was derisively referred to as a “demo” by the band, but it was the best damn demo I ever heard to come out with the full support of an indie (thank you Relapse Records). More importantly, Let it Burn placed Nebula squarely in the high-desert-stoner-rock tradition (modern psychedelic rock, I guess) and its appeal was largely the result of listening to Nebula jam with a great deal of taste and restraint. Using wah, phasers, flangers, and even sitars, for chrissakes, they still managed to keep it all under control.

To the Center is much the same record as Let it Burn. The rack of effects are still screwing around with the sound, and clearly Glass and company spent a little more time in the booth, panning solos to and fro, a la Hendrix on down. And Nebula’s biggest strength, an endearing embrace of all things stoner and psychedelic, is still present in everything from the lyrics to the heavy reverb tweaking the drums. “Fields of Psilocybin” sounds just as screwed up as any Ween song, but I’d bet anyone that Nebula is not goofing on the psychedelic trick.

Nor are they goofing on the guitar-as-salvation shtick. “I’ve been loving this guitar for a long, long time,” Glass sings on “Between Time,” “just trying so hard to find just where I’ve been and where I’m going. Got to get inside my mind, and it’s all right.”

All right, indeed, dude. (JH)

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