Relevant Psychedelic Rock from Musiciens Sans Frontieres

by delarue

It makes sense to follow yesterday’s coverage of Small Beast with an artist who’s played the event many times. Back in the day (meaning 2008-09), you could always count on Thomas Simon to close the evening with one of his eerie, otherworldly improvised guitar soundscapes. Sometimes that would be more rock-oriented, sometimes more ambient, sometimes a blend of the two. Now Simon has followed up his intense, haunting 2010 noir soundtrack album, Moncao, with a debut effort, Spread Some Love by his band Musiciens Sans Frontieres (“Musicians Without Borders”). Simon handles all the guitars and keys, with his wife Jillie Simon on vocals plus Keith Golden on bass and Alex Alexander – whose electric djembe often literally and viscerally electrifies Simon’s live performances – on drums.

The video for the third track here, Legalize, was selected for this year’s European Film Festival in Paris, not bad for something that might be better known as a winner at last year’s Toronto Marijuana Music Awards. While this is first and foremost a psychedelic rock record, it’s also a dark one, with the same gritty gravitas and eclecticism that informs Simon’s previous work. The opening track, Dream Segments, sets his trademark layers and layers of echoey, twanging, resonant guitars over a distorted, spacey bass pulse and hypnotically insistent percussion loops that run through the mix dub-style. The first of the vocal tracks, Happy Monday, continues the dark ambience over echoing, galloping waves of guitar, Jillie Simon’s vocal harmonies projecting equal amounts coyness and unease. Likewise, Affection has a wary, longing edge – with its swaying, pounding, bluesy central hook, it’s the closest thing to stadium rock here.

Unlike most homages to the only cure for glaucoma, Legalize isn’t a bubbly feel-good song: it’s a murky, pounding, crescendoing demand for common sense:

Something is wrong here, jailed for having weed
Funding for prisons instead of schools in need

Building from swaying country blues to biting, growling rock, So Many Ways lashes out against hydro-fracking (the toxic process legalized by the “Dick Cheney Amendment” that has resulted in groundwater in regions across the country being poisoned by mysterious radioactive substances used by corporations breaking through the underlying shale in a desperate search for natural gas). With its chilling cinematics, Dead Hero is the closest thing to Simon’s soundtrack work here. The album ends with a psychedelic take on a song made famous by Nirvana, and the luridly seductive In the Waves, which blends Middle Eastern and 80s rock flavors. Who is the audience for this? Fans of the more thoughtful side of stoner music and dark rock in general. Watch this space for upcoming NYC-era shows.