Lesbian – Stratospheria Cubensis
I remember the first time I saw Lesbian play live in their Seattle hometown. I had been chatting with guitarist Arran Mcinnis about the day-long tracking session they'd just finished with Randall Dunn (Southern Lord boards for Sunn O))), Wolves in the Throne Room, Earth) when I noticed the surfeit of amps they'd set up. In a VERY modest-sized club, six stacks stood warming up, two each for the rhythm, lead, and bass guitarist. He said it was more for "spatial" considerations than pure level. Maybe so, but I'll be damned if they weren't fantastically loud that night. I remember thinking, "Wow, this is what people think Hawkwind sound like" - driving, epic, psych catharsis. Pounding waves of stoner guitars filtered through a NWOBHM sensibility nearly became physical entities that simultaneously pushed you away and drew you in. The album they were touring on at that point, 2007's Power Hor, quickly became a favorite of mine, partly because it sounded so different from their show.
One of the things I love about this band is their live vs. record dichotomy. Their records brim with texture and subtlety, employing a range of harmonies, spacy processing, even Mellotron, the prog rock studio substitute for a string section. Live, Lesbian shave it all away and focus on pummeling riffs, and I'm 100% okay with that. It turns heads and makes an impression, which is exactly what a young touring band wants. Though they're undoubtedly a metal-BASED band, the morning-after depth of their records can be quite a shock next to the simpler hot fuck of their live show. Lesbian are an unequivocally rare bird, as indebted to Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis as to Chuck Schuldiner. Consequently, I wouldn't recommend a Lesbian record to anyone without suitably eclectic tastes (though I WOULD recommend their live show to any metal fan). This is music for people who loathe, as John Cobbett put it, "two-adjective metal".
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Fewer than three or four adjectives wouldn't suffice for much of Stratospheria Cubensis (Important, 2010; stream here). Like Power Hor before it, it's a beastly collection of epic song suites virtually ineffectual in passing, yet totally engrossing with a good pair of headphones or (ideally) high-output speakers. Primal riffs lumber like a serenade from the Incredible Hulk atop beds of gorgeous, clean arpeggios too exotic for post-rock. This is music that rages and writhes, then flows and cools in equal measure telling the epic story of...of...well, graft your own tales of swords and sorcery onto these freighters of riff.
Actually, that's probably the only sticking point I have with Lesbian: for a band to craft something so complex and musically unwieldy, one assumes they have a vision or an idea or a concept in mind, something being communicated. I sense that the raw, heaving power of sound propels Lesbian across these vast prog metal landscapes and I don't feel like I'm being put on. Part of me wonders, however, what makes this band tick? King Crimson, The Melvins, and Harvey Milk are all wildly challenging bands, but I get what they're trying to say, though I don't think what they're saying is simple or articulable. A band as ambitious as Lesbian needs to feel the word in their bones to take it to the next level.
Goddamn, though, what a MASSIVE second album. This is a band with tools to reach the heights, and with the painterly sonic aesthetic of producer Dunn, they've already found someone who can articulate this kaleidoscopic metal vision. They're also on tour right now, so if you're on the US West Coast, join them in their psychogenic Valhalla!
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BUY STRATOSPHERIA CUBENSIS
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LESBIAN - US WEST COAST TOUR 2010
Nov 03 @ Johnny B's (Medford, OR)
Nov 04 @ The Hub (Sacramento, CA)
Nov 05 @ Hemlock Tavern w/ Grayceon, Walken (San Francisco, CA)
Nov 06 @ Three Clubs (Hollywood, California)
Nov 07 @ Bar Pink (San Diego, CA)
Nov 11 @ Sugar Mountain w/ Pigs, Cormorant (Oakland, CA)
Nov 12 @ Cafe Coda (Chico, CA)
Nov 13 @ The Alibi (Arcata, CA)
Nov 14 @ Oak Street Speakeasy (Eugene, OR)
Nov 15 @ Tube (Portland, OR)
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