New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: October, 2012

An Album of Drinking Songs for Your Halloween Pleasure

In celebration of Halloween, here’s an album about a deal with the devil. Like most deals with the devil, some of it is great fun, some less so. Haley Bowery’s debut album Born Strange is a trip through one particular vomit-saturated part of hell: Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Much of what’s left of the LES is so NOT New York: at best, it’s Bloomington, or Chapel Hill, or Northhampton. At worst, it’s Rodeo Drive gone to the Jersey Shore.

Backed by her band the Manimals’ tunefully impretentious, fist-pumping four-on-the-floor glam-flavored rock, Haley presents the point of view of somebody who’s uncomfortable with buying into this scene, taking a leap of faith with the noose of conformity around her neck. Some people will hear these songs and say that the narratives are just a pretext for singalong choruses whose message is invariably something along the lines of “let’s get fuuuuuucked up!” But there’s more to them than that. Haley’s protagonistas want the whole city to be smart and weird like they are. Her characters make their way cynically, sometimes savagely through a wasteland of tourist traps and dashed dreams, fueling themselves with near-lethal amounts of booze. Alcohol figures into these songs as much as heroin in Elliott Smith’s music, or pot in Bob Marley’s – it’s everywhere. People drink to escape from drinking. The album’s centerpiece, appropriately titled Halloween, builds from a screaming postpunk verse to a big singalong chorus, crystallizing the theme here: “Fuck the rest of them, let’s party!”

The title of the big kiss-off song here is Blitzed. Likewise, the revenge anthem Undertow, which takes a pensive, uncertain folk-pop tune and turns it into a defiant glamrock singalong, an order to “drink your whiskey up for all the people who never thought you’d be more than a zero.” From the screaming intro to the backbeat chorus of Jukebox Dive, its semi-hopeful protagonist thinks back on listening to her dad’s Jesus & Mary Chain records as she insists to the guy she’s just met that she’ll drink with him til the sun comes up. And right before the luscious layers of guitar kick in on the chorus of Lobotomy, Haley reminds that “I know how a bone can break, I know what a liver can take.” In case you’re wondering, she’s been known to spray crowds at her shows with a giant squirt gun filled with whiskey.

All this reaches a peak on Dream of the Chelsea Hotel, a catchy, Patti Smith-inspired number whose main character ponders whether or not to “drink til we’re dead like Dylan Thomas did.” When these people aren’t sauced, they’re not having an easy time. 29, a wistful power ballad, looks at the angst of staring down the big three-zero and still having to hide stuff from the ‘rents. All Lies ponders whether or not there’s any hope for happiness at all, drunk or sober, in the face of competition from younger, prettier women who’ve “got command of the room.” And on the album’s Blondie-esque title track, Haley admits feeling “like an alien assembled in this skin.”

And that’s the rub – some might ask why would anyone want to live like this. Wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper, never mind less stressful, to stay out of the tourist traps, away from the conformists and the self-centered rocker boys whose main occupation, at least as they’re portrayed here, is to break womens’ hearts? Hearing these songs, you want to reach into them and shake these girls, and ask them, is all this drama worth it? Maybe Haley Bowery can tackle that question on her next album. She and the Manimals – Attis Jerrell Clopton on drums, Patrick Deeney on guitar and Joseph Wallace on bass – play the National Underground on Nov 8 at 9 PM.

Picking Up the Pieces After Frankenstorm

Frankenstorm pretty much lived up to its name. Nuclear reactors around the area, at least as far as the official story is concerned, were unaffected, with two exceptions. One of the reactors at Indian Point, thirty miles north of Manhattan, was taken offline after a rise in outside water levels, and is presently being cooled according to regular protocol. Of more concern was the Oyster Creek plant in Lacey Township, NJ, just south of Red Bank, which went on alert for a day after cooling systems there failed the night of the storm. Full outside power was restored on Oct 31, and the alert was lifted: there doesn’t seem to be any persistent threat beyond the usual.

At present (afternoon of Nov 3), NYC bus service is back; much of subway service in Queens and Brooklyn has been restored, but the only train running between Manhattan and Brooklyn is the 4. Check the MTA site for the latest developments; there’s still no 3,7, B, C, E, G or Q train service and no trains between 34th Street and downtown Brooklyn other than the 4. Free shuttle buses continue to run uptown from Brooklyn along 3rd Ave. and 57th St. from the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn, and southbound to Brooklyn along Lexington Ave. beginning at 57th St.  

As far as music is concerned, clubs are cancelling shows one day at a time rather than shutting down for an extended period; whether this is wishful thinking or a good omen remains to be seen. There are still areas in Manhattan south of 34th St. which do not have electric power.

If you’re feeling stir-crazy, best to check with the club or your favorite artist beforehand before wasting a trip. The latest NYC live music calendar is here; a comprehensive list of NYC venues is here.

New York Music Daily’s debut Sunday Salon at Zirzamin on November 4 at 5 PM is happening, followed by a performance by Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons at 7. Come on down if you’re in the neighborhood!

Magical Eastern European Sounds from Vasko Dukovski’s Amniotic Fluid

Vasko Dukovski is one of the world’s most highly sought-after clarinetists. He usually plays concert halls with orchestras and chamber ensembles. But the Macedonian-born reedman also has a passion for music from his native land, as well as Balkan and gypsy tunes. Earlier this year, he put out a deviously entertaining collection of droll folk-flavored themes under the name Amniotic Fluid, with eclectic percussionist Krume Stefanovski and powerhouse accordionist Jordan Kostov. It’s a pretty radical change from the classical and indie classical sounds that Dukovski is usually associated with, less of a display of sensational chops than imagination and wit.

The songs are a mix of moody vamps and less serious ones: the titles, like Sta-Me-Na and China Express Around the World, pretty much give them away. On the lighter side, there’s the carefree groove Svirci Iz Kavadarci (The Bulgarian in Honolulu), a sarcastic Jimmy Buffett lost-in-the-Balkans tune. There’s Salsa’s Journey, which takes a sassy ready-get-set-go riff and develops it into a psychedelic thicket of multitracked clarinet and accordion, capped off with a long, brightly sailing Dukovski solo. And Bace Don’t Kraj is no relation to the Cure: it’s a live trip-hop theme that builds to an allusive noir jazz atmosphere, Kostov blazing through a rapidfire staccato solo over an endless series of tricky rhythmic changes.

The cinematic Cabaret Bombay begins with foghorn clarinet and then morphs from a march into jazzy trip-hop, while Chobarium is more ambient and suspenseful. Vatashkata interchanges brooding gypsy-flavored interludes with a long, lively Macedonian dance. Slinky as it is, Sloga Sarajevo (Peace Sarajevo) has an inescapably apprehensive undercurrent. Muv Let- Melburnshka Tresenica mingles a series of rapidfire clusters with nimble, echoey vibraphone, while the trio turn the traditional Flying Bulgar into a jaunty tango.

But maybe in keeping with the intensity that defines Dukovski’s work, the two best songs on the album are its darkest. Veseliot Oktopod (Cheerful Octopus) starts out with a series of tongue-in-cheek, cartoonish motifs and then turns surprisingly plaintive: clearly, this octopus has issues. And the absolutely creepy, phantasmagorical carnival theme Be Careful Children packs more menace in its barely two minutes than most horror-movie soundtracks. All this goes to show what kind of magic can happen when you put three of the most original players in Eastern European music together and see what they come up with from basically just messing around.

Of Earth’s Ferocious Underground Art-Rock Masterpiece

Today’s free download is Heart of the Hard Drive, by New York heavy rock band Of Earth. Albums this good usually cost money, and if the band ever decided to charge for this, it would be worth shelling out a few bucks for. As it is, now’s your chance to grab this masterpiece of heavy, melodic 21st century art-rock.

The album’s actually been out for a couple of years. A casual listener might hear this and think of the Mars Volta, and while this album has a handful of syncopated spiderwalk guitar lines and tense stalker interludes, it’s a lot more anthemic than it is proggy. Pink Floyd is an obvious influence – as is Black Sabbath, lingering in the distance – but through the prism of dreampop as well as 90s stadium rock bands like Ride. Paul Casanova’s dense, towering, majestic walls of multitracked guitar echo and resonate over Rik De Luca’s smartly terse drums, along with singer Rob De Luca’s equally terse, judicious bass. In music this ornate and orchestral, you might assume that the vocals would be grandiose and over the top, but no: they’re nonchalant to the point of being laid-back.

And the songs match the level of the playing. The title track builds a wall of guitars methodically over rolling drums, Matt Baram’s ominous organ enriching the dark core. Chords mingle and burn, an acidic, David Gilmour-esque phrase suddenly becomes savage over the hypnotic roar. It’s not clear what the song is about: “The heart of the hard drive is dead, she had such a beautiful machine.”

Motor, Wing and Muscle works its way up from a distorted stalker riff as the bass picks up, layers of guitas ringing, echoing, throbbing: “bring it on, bring it on” is the mantra. Like the Church covering Blue Oyster Cult circa 1988, the guitars rise as the organ holds the center: “turning ugly, ugly as sin,” the bassist intones casually. The searing, explosive bridge and then the angst-fueled lead line that drives the closing crescendo are a visceral thrill.

With its ringing, echoing atmospherics , catchy hook and slow syncopated sway, Disconnect from Your Name could be the great lost track from the Church’s Starfish album, building to a macabre bass lead half-hidden behind a wall of roar as the song winds out. Become Whar You Are is a big anthemic riff-rocker, the minor-key interlude midway through lit up by a vicious, all-too-brief, menacingly shivery, Neil Young-flavored guitar solo. With its completely macabre organ-and-guitar intro and distantly glam-fueled, Bowie-esque grandeur, On the News allusively tells the story of someone whose “baby doll’s broken…this is the time, this is the moment, what’s on your mind, now you can shot it.” They keep you hanging for a punchline.

What Is Fair kicks off with a flurry of nasty tremolo-picking, pulses along on a tense single-note riff, winds down to a slow, dreamily menacing keyboard-fueled interlude and then back up to a majestic, anguished guitar solo that references David Gilmour all over the place – and completely nails the awestruck, horror-stricken mood. They follow that with a richly psychedelic, menacing anthem, Gypsy Moth, the guitars shedding feedback and reverb like a poisonous isotope, moving up from echoey Rhodes piano and broodidng organ and back again. The longest song is Still Life on Mars/Above, an alienated epic that begins as a march, working its way through a haunted series of variations to a scorching, explosive outro that adds one layer of angry, bitter guitar after another. The album closes with a minute-long guitar vamp on the fourth track, a disembodied outro of sorts.

Of Earth play Spike Hil on Nov 1 in the middle of a killer triplebill with 80s psychedelic janglepunk legends Band of Outsiders opening at 9 and another anthemic, artsy, psychedelic band, Musiciens Sans Frontieres following at 11.

Orient Noir: Klezmer Sounds from the Edges of the Diaspora

On the Orient Noir compilation, billed as a “WestEastern Divan,” the folks over at Piranha Records in Germany raid their own archives for an instant album…and a pretty killer playlist that goes on for well over an hour. It’s quite an inspiration for adventurous downloaders (most of this stuff is on youtube – follow the links below). It’s noir to the extent that the sexy and mysterious microtones of Middle Eastern and Jewish music are noir. This is first and foremost a klezmer playlist, one that ranges across more of the Jewish diaspora than most, with a handful of tasty levantine numbers thrown in for good measure.

The weakest tracks are from French band Watcha Clan: a brief klezmer intro and a woozy reggae cover of an Ofra Haza hit. The track most instantly identifiable as klezmer is from Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars, Susan Sandler out in front of the band, giving the song a barely restrained longing. London also appears in a low-key, moody collaboration with Serbian brass virtuoso Boban Markovic, while another project he’s been involved with for decades, the Klezmatics, are represented by the understatedly ferocious, gospel-fueled I’m Not Afraid.

A couple of instrumentals are stripped down to the basics of slinky percussion and a single melody line: a flute-and-accordion jam from Nubian artist Mahmoud Fadl, and Ali’s Nay, credited to veteran Lebanese composer Ihsan Al-Mounzer. The most eye-opening stuff here is the Jewish music that pushes the boundaries of klezmer with influences from Africa – Moroccan cantor Emil Zrihan’s amusingly titled, flamenco-flavored Maka Shelishit, and Moroccan Sephardic crooner Maurice El Medioni ‘s long diptych Ya Maalem/Kelbi Razahi, a noir cabaret tango with Balkan horns!

Ruth Yaakov’s Las Esuergas de Angora – from her album Sephardic Songs of the Balkans – offers a tricky blend of flamenco and gypsy music with what sounds like creepy, swirly West African riti fiddle. And a track by popular Zanzibar taraab chanteuse Bi Kikude blends Bollywood-flavored, surfy rock with lushly suspenseful levantine orchestration.

Interestingly, on this klezmer-oriented playlist, the most outright haunting tracks are by the Arabs. Salwa Abou Greisha sings a sweeping, haunting multi-part Egyptian bellydance epic, and iconic Egyptian trumpeter Samy El Bably provides his hit Ana Bamasi El Haba Doll, an elegant vamp with richly nuanced solos from trumpet and accordion. The playlist ends the way you might end your own playlist, with something completely random and weird: in this case, The Garden, a cantorially-tinged 1979 song by short-lived German hippie-rock band Efendi’s Garden. If Hotel California-style twin guitars playing vaguely Middle Eastern riffs are your thing, you’ll love this one. Happy hunting, wink wink!

Lush, Trippy, Hard-Hitting Atmospherics from Naked Truth

Naked Truth’s new album Ouroboros is one of those deliciously uncategorizable ones. Is it art-rock? Some of it, definitely. Is it film music? Could be. Jazz? Sure, why not? Psychedelia? Hell yeah, especially when they open it with a “trippy Pink Floyd kind of thing,” as drummer Pat Mastelotto puts it. He leads the instrumental project, along with bassist Lorenzo Feliciati and keyboardist Roy Powell, cornetist Graham Haynes ably replacing the estimable Cuong Vu who played on their first album

Lush atmospheric sheets of synthesized strings and dozens of other textures rise and fall, fading in and out of the mix, often giving the music a dub feel. Mastelotto plays with an animated Bill Bruford intensity, often on a kit and syndrums at the same time. As with the swoosh of the keyboards, it’s often hard to tell what’s live and what’s tumbling from the laptop, but that’s part of the psychedelic appeal. Meanwhile, Haynes wafts in and out of the mix with a terse, wary Miles Davis clarity, adding a brooding noir edge that sometimes has a powerfully humanizing effect on the mechanical chill behind him.

The opening “trippy Pink Floyd thing” fades up and down gracefully and winds up on a cinematic crescendo with all kinds of wisps and fizzles percolating through the mix. Dancing with the Demons of Reality, a tricky atmospheric theme, alludes to a stomping King Crimson art-rock vibe, which makes sense since Mastelotto has held the drum chair in that venerable band since the 90s. From there they segue into Garden Ghosts, a long, distantly menacing piece contrasting Haynes’ fugitive angst against the intricately murky thud behind him.

The bass woozes, and eventually rises to squeaks and squalls throughout the trip-hop thump of Orange, bubbly oscillating electric piano playing off the uncannily steady, calmly atmospheric backdrop. Then they pick up the pace, fast and heavy, with Right of Nightly Passage. It’s a highway theme of sorts: if Kraftwerk had drums, in fact anything other than synths, they might have sounded something like this. Yang Ming Has Passsed winds up and down with a slow, shivery sway and more of that richly mournful cornet; In a Dead End with Joe picks it up again, a heavy but trickily rhythmic riff-driven theme. The album ends with Neither I, which works its way from atmospheric dub reggae to a pensive neoromantic piano outro, with a cool piano/cornet interlude along the way. Whoever would have thought that a founding member of Mr. Mister could have come up with anything as richly enveloping and darkly kaleidoscopic as this?

First-Class Americana Songs from the Multi-Talented Pigpen Theatre Co.

Pigpen Theatre Co. are the first group to win the award for best play two years in a row at New York’s Fringe Festival. But they’re far more than a theatre troupe: they’re also puppeteers, and a wildly eclectic oldtime acoustic band. Their latest mix of live music and puppetry, The Old Man and the Old Moon runs through November 3 at the Judson Theatre on Washington Square South at 8 PM (be forewarned – tix are EXPENSIVE). If the Fringe folks are right, the play should be good, and so is the music. The soundtrack is streaming all the way through at their Bandcamp site.

The premise of the show is a surreal one: the Man in the Moon’s wife runs off in search of a tune she heard wafting across the waves, so he goes off to find her. Not having seen the play, it’s not clear where the music fits in: there’s a lot of searching going on. The songs run the gamut from bluegrass, to blues, to swing and some more modern styles, and the musicianship is tremendous (individual players aren’t credited on the band’s site). The opening number, As Lonely As Me builds to a big crescendo, sort of an art-rock take on Nick Drake. The next one is The Goose Song, a carefree country shuffle with some excellent, swirly accordion. Then things get dark quickly with Crow, a metaphorically-fueled banjo tune about two drunken birds making fools of themselves (animals frequently stand in for people throught the album).

The narrator of The Graveyard Song tastes his long-lost love’s graveyard dust and is convinced her soul is still alive – and she talks to him! It’s a rare upbeat moment from this point on. The shuffling Bremen, a pop song in an oldtimey suit, nicks a Midsummer Night’s Dream scenario, while The Dress Song mines a waltzing oldtime British folk vein, with strong baritone vocals from an alternate singer. Stowaway has the feel of an old English banjo ballad, setting a dread-fueled lyric over its catchy, recurrent riff: “Now the Tower is as feared as its glassy sneer, for those inside do look down…soon come the ropes, and everybody chokes…”

The sad, stark My Only Son alternates richly mournful bowed bass with resonator guitar and ends unresolved; We Stand Alone builds artfully into a lush Scottish ballad with accordion, rustic fiddle, some gorgeously ringing dulcimer, bowed bass and banjo behind a torrent of surreal lyrics. And that’s where the album ought to end. But it doesn’t: the last couple of tracks quickly reveal their lame, cliched indie pop origins despite all the snazzy playing. And as fine musicians as these guys are, the lead vocals won’t make any points outside the indie rock ghetto. It’s not that their usual lead singer has a bad voice, it’s that he sings with the studied, tone-deaf awkwardness that’s been all the rage ever since the landlords of Bushwick decided that pretty white boys in tight jeans made more desirable tenants than the neighborhood folks who’d lived there for decades. Beyond their heralded theatrical talent, Pigpen Theatre Co. are a terrific band.  They just need somebody else out in front of them most of the time.

M Shanghai String Band’s Two Thousand Pennies: Their Best Album

M Shanghai String Band are Brooklyn’s finest example of an ancient tradition: the community band. Consider: a hundred years ago, Red Hook assuredly had at least one bunch of local Irish guys playing the waterfront bars, probably many more than that. Meanwhile, the same thing was going on among the Italians in Williamsburg, the Greeks in Brooklyn Heights, and pretty much wherever there were people (instead of cows: much of Brooklyn was farmland back then). These days, divisions among the population occur more on economic lines than ethnic ones. When M Shanghai String Band decided to name themselves after the Havemeyer Street Chinese restaurant whose basement had become their rehearsal and then their performance space, they were just a bunch of locals who had one thing in common; their love of oldtime American music. Fast forward to 2012: they’ve got a new album out, Two Thousand Pennies, and it’s one of this year’s best. M Shanghai were a lot of fun back in the zeros, but who would have thought they’d still be going, let alone putting out a record as brilliantly eclectic as this one? There isn’t a bad song on it.

M Shanghai, who currently boast about ten members, are a string band in the broadest sense of the word: a long time ago, they expanded beyond vintage country sounds to include elements of gypsy music, sea chanteys, British folksongs, oldtime swing jazz, noir cabaret and straight-up rock, all of which they play acoustic. Guitarist Austin Hughes’ gentle, keening voice isn’t the first thing you’d expect to hear from a country band – not that they’re always a country band – but he sings on key and writes fluently in a whole bunch of styles, with a subtly stinging lyricism.

The album begins powerfully with the swaying, broodingly catchy, minor-key Sea Monster, a metaphorically-charged parable of post-9/11 paranoia. Made in the Dark has a swaying flamenco/noir cabaret vibe: we’re all made in the dark, after all, but this isn’t exactly a celebration. Violinist and spoons player Philippa Thompson sings Leaving Oklahoma, which has the mix of resignation and hope of a classic dust bowl ballad, followed by the starkly rustic Shanghai Mountain, sung by its author, banjo player Hilary Hawke.

The soaring title track, Richard Morris’ mandolin blending with Dave Pollack’s full-thoated, bluesy harmonica, cynically explores an understatedly bleak current-day depression milieu. Guitarist Matthew Schickele, the group’s resident ham, sings Marlene, a muted, sad country waltz as well as Sailor’s Snug Harbor – a ruggedly wry oldtime-flavored sea chantey commissioned by Staten Island’s 5 Boroughs Music Festival – and the ridiculously fun Zombie Zombo. Morris sings Entropy, his blackly humorous swing tune: “We idolize the work of human hands…and everything falls apart,” he complains.

Hughes’ Sleeping Engineeer never wakes up during the shuffling, richly nocturnal railroad ballad; Glendon Jones’ creepy gypsy fiddle finally alludes to the consequences waiting just around the bend. Thompson contrasts that with Boxcar, a casually imperturbable hobo song: this particular tramp isn’t about to trade freedom for any kind of stability. Dillinger follows the trail of the legendary outlaw through some gorgeous harmonies to a surprising conclusion; Hawke sings Wrecking Ball Savior, a bitterly beautiful, Appalachian-flavored lament. The album ends with O Lucy, a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a Richard & Linda Thompson album from the 70s. M Shanghai String Band sold out their album release shows at the Jalopy last month; their next one at Brooklyn’s home for all things good and vintage American is at 9 PM on Nov 3 and you’d best show up on time if you want to get in.

Antibalas Brings the Afrobeat Funk Downtown

Ordinarily, you’d expect a free show by Antibalas to create a line around the block. Last night at the World Financial Center, there was a good crowd, but fewer people than expected. But there was a catch: this was an anniversary show of sorts for WNYC host John Schaefer’s New Sounds Live, there was a (horrible) opening act and consequently the most popular and probably best of the second-wave Afrobeat bands got barely 40 minutes onstage. But it was a great 40 minutes.

The band name meanas “anti-bullets.” Like their inspiration Fela Kuti, their antiwar, antifascist politics are inseparable from their music. When the songs don’t have lyrics – which is a lot of the time – their passion still comes across in the grooves. Baritone saxophonist and bandleader Martin Perna has gone on record as saying that to be in Antibalas, you basically have to be a drummer, regardless of whether you’re playing drums or not – and the groove these eleven guys created was close to telepathic. Because Antibalas have always drawn on a rotating talent base, it was hard to tell exactly which one this was. All drummer Miles Arntzen (son of the great trumpeter Leif Arntzen) needed was a five-piece kit to generate a purist, hypnotic, psychedelic pulse and keep it swinging, locked in with Nikhil Yerawadekar’s fat, undulating bass riffs.

It’s amazing how interesting this band can make a one-chord jam. The horns looomed in, ominous and majestic, as keyboardist Victor Axelrod’s organ swirled with an In a Gadda Da Vida trippiness, punctuated by blasts that faded back just a bit into a hypnotic sway until trumpeter Jordan McLean took flight. Then they brought the creepy organ back. The next song began with hints of funky reggae, took a brief detour into salsa-style vocal call-and-response and wound up on a high note with a tense but exuberant, microtonally-fueled tenor sax solo from Stuart Bogie. Amayo, the band’s Nigerian-born percussionist/singer asked pointed questions and got the band, and the crowd, to serve as a chorus. Perna’s nonchalantly tropical lines contrasted with the ferocity of the rest of the horns, guitarist Luke O’Malley’s steady, funky clank holding everything tight with the rhythm section. With the vintage tones of the amps behind the persistent fire of the brass, it was easy to imagine that this was Fela’s Shrne in Lagos, circa 1978. Either way, the secret police were a moment away away in case anyone misbehaved.

Antibalas have a new album, their first in five years, due out soon from Daptone; the band will soon be off on a tour of Europe and then the west coast, with a return date on Dec 14 at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple in Fort Greene on an excellent doublebill with Red Baraat.

Mos Generator’s Nomads: A Clinic in Heavy Rock

Lying down, headphones blasting in the dim light of a laptop, one word kept coming to mind, over and over: excellent. That’s Pacific Northwest metal legends Mos Generator’s new album Nomads, their first in five years. Maybe due to frontman/guitarist Tony Reed’s involvement with Stone Axe, this one has a lot less in common with Mos Generator’s artsy, apocalyptic 2005 masterpiece The Late Great Planet Earth than it does with their thunderous but nimble early-zeros roots. Like innumerable stoner metal acts, Mos Generator looks back to early Sabbath, but what differentiates them from all the imitators is their songwriting. Hell, Sabbath had a top 40 hit: heavy as that band’s songs were, they were catchy, and Mos Generator shares that gift for melody. The songs here have the kind of weight you find at the ass end of the period table, but aside from a couple of tracks toward the end of the album that have tongue-in-cheek power-ballad interludes, there’s nothing even remotely pop about them.

Reed has been a fine player for a long time; he can shred with anybody, but what makes him different is that he usually doesn’t. His solos are about making a point, hitting a phrase head-on for maximum impact, taking a crescendo over the cliff so it takes out a whole village of idiots when it lands rather than self-destructing halfway down. Case in point: the fourth track here, Step Up. Evil bleeding chromatics give way to a brontosaurus stomp as Scooter Haslip’s melodic bass rises ominously. Reed hits his fuzztone pedal and then goes into some searing blues. They run another verse, then he takes off, savagely but also judicious and bluesy, high above the lush, multitracked layers of roar. And then he suddenly hits a supersonic flurry of tapping that instantly takes the energy level into the red. It’s the only time on the album he does it. Compare that with, say, Yngwie Malmsteen.

The first couple of tracks, Cosmic Ark and Lonely One Kenobi, are a clinic in how to build a song, heavy riffage anchoring a constant shift in tones and timbres: lingering acidic flange lines, aching Jimmy Page vibrato, searing upper-register icepick attacks like Buck Dharma on…hmmmm….take a guess. The third track, Torches, looks back to British bands like Nazareth with its sludgy thump and Stonehenge lyrics. Solar Angels is a feast of smoldering, screaming, burning textures, again evoking Blue Oyster Cult at their most confrontationally direct. Haslip and drummer Shawn Johnson stand out most impressively on the early Maiden-flavored For Your Blood, with its growly Steve Harris gallop giving off noxious fumes underneath Reed’s doubletracked solo.

Finally, at the end of the album, the band revisits the mind-warping majesty of The Late Great Planet Earth with This Is the Gift of Nature, an apocalyptic epic full of tricky polyrhythms and dark bluesfunk-tinted passages that echo bands like Rare Earth and the Isley Bros. – but from the bottom of a well, darkly. The only thing anybody could possibly want after this is a reissue of that 2005 album – which is coming, along with this one, from Ripple Music. Lots of stuff, audio and video, up at their site.