GHQ - Heavy Elements (Three Lobed Recordings CD)
Man alive, am I the only one tired of CDs that come in cardboard sleeves a centimeter too wide to fit into my vertical CD racks? I used to get the odd one every now and again but these days it seems like all the new CDs I buy are packaged this way. Heck I'm not complaining about the design choice (in fact I vastly prefer cardboard to jewel cases), just the fact that I have a whole bunch of these sleeves slipping and sliding around on top of their jewel-cased brethren. I guess it's just time to go bookshelf-style. Anyway cardboard is the least of my worries when it comes to the new one from GHQ. I'm more concerned about the fact that this is the third GHQ volume I've reviewed this year (their second "official" release so far) and I'm almost certainly running out of things to say or new ways to define their acoustic/raga/drone thing. Before I get into that, a little refresher: GHQ (on this date at least) is Marcia Bassett of the Double Leopards et al, Pete Nolan of the Magik Markers et al and Steve Gunn of stuff I'm probably not aware of et al. As is traditionally par for the course on these kinds of outings, we're not privy to who plays what but if I remember the GHQ live experience correctly, Steve plays acoustic guitar and voice, Marcia plays acoustic, electric, violin and voice, while Pete plays drums and voice and possibly something else like a guitar, but who's to say. The sounds on "Heavy Elements" indeed come from a GHQ live experience, one that occured on January 27th of this year at a place called Goodbye Blue Monday. And...that's really all you need to know.
"Lost in the Blinding Sheen of Moonlight Mirrored" comes streaming out of the stereo like a bullhorn waking you from a dream, and my initial reaction is that it sounds a lot more like Marcia and Matthew Bower's black-winged metal-drone behemoth Hototogisu or even a darker Double Leopards track than anything I've heard from GHQ to date. The effects and delay are piling on right from the get-go and only at the halfway mark when Pete Nolan churns out a rather languid, quasi-tropical rhythm does one begin to identify the tune with the GHQ brand. I must say it works up quite a vivid effect, especially when Marcia's violin lays out long stretches of gamma ray shimmer in fine Tony Conrad spirit. A pretty suave marriage of early New York minimalism and the shaking Velvets rhythms that would soon come to be born, wholly tinged with the knowledge of early- and later-day Americana hippie cults. It would be no small exaggeration to say it's my favorite GHQ track that I can recall, but then I can never recall any of them anyway.
The intermediate "Twelve Events" pits a rather wah-y blues/psych guitar solo against the repetitive, almost atonal strums of an acoustic guitar with a backdrop painted by dense vocal chants and I don't know what else for the durations of its eight minutes. Reminds me of that Six Organs of Admittance track from the OM split a while back, only more genial and floaty than headsplitting. Not much to say but it sure is a nice track to wash (up) with. Last track "Cold Dark Matter" lives very much up to its definitively bleak title - if there's a more furious GHQ blast to date, I haven't heard it (or, like I said, I can't remember it). Gone are the sweet drops of acoustic dreamweaving, the skull-soaring vocals, the promises to bring the "sexy" back...in their place is a monolithic guitar skwwall, a menacing ratatat cymbal clang and lots of foreboding delay and feedback. I don't know if there were some bad veggie paninis passed around before the show and some demon exorcising was in order but this is a veritable monster - not that all the other tracks were a total romp in the park either. In fact I think I prefer it when GHQ hit the more melodic notes...the aggressive, blown-out, drones-cum-noise sounds have already been mined pretty hard, and some of those miners are even among the GHQ ranks. They've got a good mix of personnel and varying instruments (well it ain't a guitar, a mic and a suitcase full of pedals I mean) so why not make the most of those instead of sounding like everyone else? That said it's still not a bad tune by any means, just not at the level the group is obviously capable of.
Like all GHQ jams to date, "Heavy Elements" clocks in at under 40 minutes. I'm normally a big fan of shorter releases but I'd like to see what they could do over the course of, say, 50 minutes...enough time to tune in and flip it to autopilot for the duration only to wake up in fields of hay wearing nothing but Birkenstocks and drool. Kudos to Three Lobed for fine-looking release - as I mentioned before "Heavy Elements" comes in a mini LP-style sleeve but also a glossy lime green insert with artwork from Marcia Bassett herself.