Oakland psychedelic band Mondo Drag’s second album – streaming at Bandcamp – is amazingly retro, yet completely in the here and now. As far as stoner art-rock goes, this stuff is state-of-the-art. It opens with a song titled Zephyr, which fades up with a galloping pulse, vocals back in the mix, John Gamino’s smoky Hammond organ front and center over the careening rhythm section of Zack Anderson’s trebly bass and drummer Cory Berry’s muted stampede. They wind it up with a guitar solo in tandem with the organ that wouldn’t be out of place on an classic Nektar album…or something from early 70s Jethro Tull. Everything about this – the production, the smoky vibe, the nonchalant expertise of the playing, is straight out of 1974 in the best possible way. Their current US tour brings them to St. Vitus in Greenpoint on July 18 on a killer triplebill with swirly post-Sabbath psych-metal band Electric Citizen and heavier, more boogie-driven Fresno stoners Slow Season. Doors are at 8; general admission is $12.
The album’s second song is titled Crystal Visions Open Eyes – guitarists Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley give it a murky, drony intro before the band hits an altered motorik groove, then that smoky organ hits in tandem with Anderson’s soaring bass – it could be the great lost track from Nektar’s Down to Earth. Shivery, aching wah guitar over a funky beat takes it down to an elegant acoustic interlude straight out of the Moody Blues.
The Dawn, with its twin organ-and-guitar riffage, is more straight up – until it goes on a doublespeed rampage, part Allman Brothers, part Nektar. Plumajilla is a swaying Santana-esque vamp, with twin guitars fading into the ozone, snakecharmer flute, a big, long crescendo and then a mysterious interlude like Iron Maiden at their artsiest that goes into gently ornate early Genesis territory. How much art-rock richness can one band possibly mine in a single song?
The most original track here is Shifting Sands, a mashup of Tangerine Dream and maybe early U2 – at least before the guitars get all crunchy. The stately slide guitar and organ intro to the instrumental epic Pillars of the Sky is as good as any Richard Wright/David Gilmour collaboration – Atomheart Mother, for example – and then brings to mind the gorgeously bittersweet spacerock of Nektar’s It’s All Over. The album’s final cut is Snakeskin, taking a hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre pulse back in time a few decades.
Anderson and Berry have since moved on to Swedish band Blues Pills, replaced by Andrew O’Neil and Ventura Garcia, who’ll be on this tour. Those are large shoes to fill, but you’d expect a band as brilliant as this to bring in guys who can fill them.