Blues Control - Blues Control / The Shining Path - The Shining Path / La Otracina - Tonal Ellipse of the One (Holy Mountain CDs)
I spent my long weekend with three new CDs from the ever-reliable Holy Mountain label, because they just put out perfect soundtracks to fritter away summer daze. Blues Control don't need an introduction from me at this point, but in case you don't know it's the duo of guitarist/junk electrician Russ Waterhouse and keyboardist/er Lea Cho, and they were responsible for that great "Puff" LP on Woodsist of times past, not to mention a more recent smash single as part of the Not Not Fun Bored Fortress split 7" series. Can they do any wrong? We'll find out! Also on the show is the Shining Path, the "rock band" version of Californians Monosov/Swirnoff aka Ilya Monosov and Preston Swirnoff, augmented by drummer Brandon Relf. Last up is Brooklyn's La Otracina, featuring Adam Kriney (Owl Xounds) on drums, Ninni Morgia (Trauma Unit, Quivers) on electric guitar and Jordon Schranz (Quivers, Eastern Seaboard) on bass. As with most anything on the Holy Mountain roster, all worship at the altar and pay homage to the almighty riff in their own special way, which is more than all right by me.
Blues Control are probably the cagiest of recent acts to wear the "stoner rock" tag, and they eschew it for a good while on their self-titled full-length. To my surprise. I was actually expecting the album to be a lot more guitar-oriented than it was. Instead the main focal point is Lea's keyboards and Russ' electronics, which is a nice and unique touch. On tracks like the gorgeous "Migration", "The Blue Sheep", and "Hummum", they leave the rock behind almost entirely to focus on echo-y, reverberating tones and acid-cut, sun-bleached soundscapes. But then when they do touch down for the riff-lead excursions as in the fantastic guitar/Casio rhythm collision of "Boiled Peanuts", the vacant arena rock soloing on "Double Chin", or the repeated, snarling guitar lines of "Frankie's Problem" and the epic finale "No Sweat", it thocks you in the skull twice as hard than it would've if the whole record was dedicated to that kind of jamming. The album hits that poifect Blues Control balance of weightless electronic gob and slicing guitar notes all the way through in a way I wouldn't have thought possible, and when they get to adding the piano and the harmonica, well I just couldn't ask for anything else. After the first time I played it I thought I preferred the Woodsist LP, but now I realize this has definitely unseated it for top honors in the band's catalogue, and is definitely one of thee must own records of the year. I mean, really. Who else can you even compare these cats to? That's what I thought, a league of their own, baby. On your knees. Again.
I never heard the Shining Path as minimalist improv (?) duo Monosov/ Swirnoff, so unfortunately I can't provide any commentary as to how those experiments translate into their rock band with Brandon Relf. For that, I apologize. I heard someone compare one of their (Monosov/Swirnoff's) Eclipse records to a combination of Morricone, Satie and Pauline Oliveros, though I can assure you none of those influences are present here. The Shining Path sounds a lot like free jazz souls trapped in rock n' roll bodies, at least when it comes down to their colletive interplay and Monosov's free-wheeling, sax-mimicking solos. But make no mistake, they're a rock band through and through, boasting rapidfire power trio moves that would have any other group of amateurs busting at the seams or panting to keep up. These guys fire on high pretty much from start to finish, incorporating elements of jazz improv, prog rock and psychedelia, thrash metal and stoner rock, no-wave and noise rock, and just about anything else with a root squarely embedded in the "rock" form. Vocals only crop up once or twice on the record so for the most part all their focus is on the instruments, often bringing to mind like-minded spirits Don Caballero, albeit with a harder edge - maybe Psyopus or Orthrelm or Behold...the Arctopus without all the math-rock tendencies. I think the best comparison I can come up with for the Shining Path sound is the story of a young Masami Akita editing down the most guitar-smashing and amplifier-destroying moments of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and the Who bootlegs to compile them all on one tape - the destruction of the rock song, as it were. This record is like all those moments penned on sheet music and executed both flawlessly and devastatingly. I wouldn't call it the most original thing ever played, but shit it's hard to say no when it's all done as well as what's heard here.
La Otracina are pretty similar to the Shining Path, at least on first glance - instrumental guitar/bass/drum trio on the Holy Mountain roster. But, unlike the Shining Path, La Ortracina are a lot more interested in space, and I'm not just talking about the final frontier. All five tracks on "Tonal Ellipse of the One" boast a looser, more open feel, and I'm guessing it's because the devotion these guys have to the trance of psychedelic rock throughout the ages. Hard not to be reminded of groups like Acid Mothers Temple, Kinski, Boredoms circa "Vision Creation Newsun", SubArachnoid Space, Comets on Fire, etc on tracks like the sprawling "Beyond the Dusty Hills (Cowboy in the Desert Part Two)" and "Ode to Amalthea". On the other hand, "Nine Times the Color Red Explodes Like Heated Blood" pays homage to the masters with a nasty, Blue Cheer groove that comes flying outta nowhere mid-song and the super-spaced monumental opener "Yellow Mellow Magic" a la Flower Travellin' Band or Gong. "Sailor of the Salvian Seas" even recalls High Rise, if they went on a bender with the dudes from Lightning Bolt and set it to tape. Despite all the name-dropping these guys incite, "Tonal Ellipse" is a sweet enough ride that you can fully immerse yourself in it without ever really thinking these guys are derivative, per se - they're just really, really up front about their influences. And it rocks hard enough that I, for one, don't give a shit who else they sound like. This is a monster record no matter how you slice it. If any of the aforementioned bands tickle your invisible orange/foot-on-monitor fantasies, you ain't gonna be none too let down. I can assure you that.
Blues Control - Blues Control
Blues Control - Frankie's Problem
The Shining Path - Hadliku Ner
La Otracina - Nine Times the Color Red Explodes Like Heated Blood
iMeem was giving me all sorts of problems tonight so it's back to Sendspace, hopefully for the last time.