I’ve spent a lot of time staring at my computer screen, typing and erasing, trying in vain to explain the concept behind this mix: stoner music.
Stoner rock is easy enough to break up into its base elements. Fuzz, of course. Endless grooves. Solos, yes, but with soul, not technicality. A multitude of effects: swirling flanges, spaced-out reverb, squalls of feedback. And did I mention fuzz?
But what about psych rock, stoner rock’s artsy older sibling? Maybe swap out the fuzz for a more expansive range of distortion, and the insistence on groove for a sense of adventure. But seeing as how the term “psychedelic” is now so divorced from its original meaning that it is essentially a blank slate (saying more about the describer than the described), and many stoner rock bands are surely as adventurous as their psychedelic peers, a Venn diagram of the two genres would likely have more shared area than not.
And then there’s the matter of groups that take on psychedelic trappings, but have no use for the “rock” end of that equation: artists that favor tripped-out atmospherics but put away their electric guitars and effect pedals, and instead pick up acoustic instruments, or – still harder to define – synthesizers and computers.
So if this exercise teaches us anything, it’s that stoner music is based on a mood more than anything. That goes for stoner metal too, that blessed sub-genre of a sub-genre, since a fair portion of the bands defined as such would just be sludge or doom bands if they weren’t singing about weed. After all, the stoner metal duumvirate – a veritable godhead – of Electric Wizard and Sleep have taken their careers in very different directions, and each are praised and scorned by different sections of the metal community. But what they share is that they both find love among the stoners; the basement-dwellers; the cloudy-headed, wide-eyed children of the metal world.
Now, to the promised land…
. . .
1. Bardo Pond – “Cracker Wrist”
from Bardo Pond (Fire Records, 2010)
Throughout their 20-year career, Bardo Pond have tackled space rock with an endearingly messy, borderline post-punk approach. But in truth, those genre qualifiers don’t mean much; Bardo Pond have a distinctive voice which, although it has developed over the years, has remained consistent.
2. White Hills – “Upon Arrival”
from H-p1 (Thrill Jockey, 2011)
White Hills are undoubtedly heavy – even abrasive at times – but they are surprisingly hooky. Also surprising is how lyrically dark each of their releases are, and H-p1 is no exception.
3. Master Musicians of Bukkake – “Prophecy of the White Camel / Namoutarre”
from Totem 3 (Important Records, 2011)
There’s some inherent silliness with anything that the Master Musicians of Bukkake put out, but they have some real cred to offer, with contributions from members of Earth, Grails, and Sun City Girls behind them at various points in their career. Totem 3 is all over the place stylistically, featuring grooves (like this track) alongside more traditional eastern-influenced fare, and droning dirges.
4. Wooden Shjips – “Crossing”
from West (Thrill Jockey, 2011)
Don’t listen to what the good people over at Thrill Jockey want to tell you about Wooden Shjips’ latest being about themes of Manifest Destiny, or self-reinvention in the American West, or what-have-you. That may be what was intended, but what comes out of the speakers is the soundtrack to a drive in a fully packed car, smoke pouring from cracked windows, the steady beat thudding like tires on road. Which, to be fair, might be what the myth of the West is all about anyway.
5. K-Holes – “Swamp Fires”
from K-Holes (Hozac Records, 2010)
This is the sound that comes two, maybe three blunts in, past the heaviest, sleepiest point of the high. You look around at your friends’ obscured faces – can’t trust them one bit. Red and blue lights are flashing from outside the window, but when you pull back the curtains there isn’t anything out there but a homeless guy rummaging through your trashcan (what does he want? Does he know?). You’ve got the fear.
6. Ash Ra Tempel – “Light: Look at Your Sun”
from Schwingungen (Ohr, 1972)
And here to take you back from the brink is one of the greatest purveyors of stoner music of all time. But don’t let this track’s coolness fool you, though; Ash Ra Tempel can freak out with the best of them.
7. Samsara Blues Experiment – “Revelation & Mystery”
from Revelation & Mystery (World in Sound, 2011)
These Germans aren’t really breaking much new ground – they’re heavily influenced by both classic and psychedelic rock, and play with some metal-worthy heaviness. But they’re so tight, and play with such commitment, that it’s hard to walk away from Revelation & Mystery without a smile on your face.