Psych rock is a genre that had, for years, been all but lost to me through its own tendency to venture further and further out into the left field of experimentalism. Though it may very well be just my perception, with bands like Acid Mothers Temple sitting at the helm of the genre today and leading the way, my interest declined and, eventually, stopped all together because, while they’re interesting and their artistic prowess cannot be denied, they simply seem to lose the grunge-laden spirit of stoner rock. However, along with a few other projects and specifically with these two tapes from Cae-sur-a, my interest has once again been piqued. There’s no interest here in seeing how crazy the tracks can become or in pushing guitar solos that overstay their welcome by minutes — no, this is just a genuine and quite simple couple of tapes that take the stoner rock atmosphere and inject it with an incredible amount of musicianship and a healthy dose of soul. More or less, they’re getting back to the basics, and it couldn’t be a more refreshing — and heavy — sound.
Within the first few minutes of popping in “Favorite Horses,” my heart was already brimming with the all-consuming joy that accompanies discovering something incredible and all-together new for the first time. The last time that I felt this kind of emotion for an album related to this genre was when I first heard Quest for Fire in ’09. The music isn’t just written well, it’s full of a passion that is impossible to fake — a passion that only comes out when a group of musicians all exist on the same vibration. For this reason, I’m frankly a little shocked that Cae-sur-a have been the only label to pay any kind of attention to this project thus far. In fact, the only album to see the light of day from this quintet of musicians outside of the two tapes covered here is the recently released “In Deep Time” LP, again on Cae-sur-a. Needless to say, the label seems to have landed a gem here and they’re obviously throwing all the support that they can behind it.
Immediately on “Favorite Horses”, we’re subjected to thundering percussion and moving bass lines that are paired underneath the heavy grunge-like rhythm guitar and sometimes shoegazing, sometimes wah-driven lead. The production of this album is fairly raw, having been constructed around a signature gritty sound that carries into their second album but in a more mature fashion. The music of “Favorite Horses” brings together all of the best influences of stoner and psych rock today and yesterday. It brings in the youthful indie spirit of Dead Meadow and mixes it with the dual gender vocals of Black Mountain, which in themselves, despite the band being from Rochester, New York, have a subtle Southern flavor reminiscent of Led Zepplin, or more recently, Layne Staley, and “Testify” style Carney. Of course, the bass-heavy groove of Black Sabbath is readily apparent as well as it becomes the most important part of the compositions, mixing well with what starts out as beautiful semi-ethereal moments that are more likely to be seen in projects like Arctique Circles and the aforementioned Quest for Fire. This ethereal style later returns temporarily in “Coke Smoker,” but it’s the sparing moments in which this quality comes out that makes it stand out and add another level of intrigue to the project.
Despite their impressive debut with “Favorite Horses”, Velvet Elvis reach another level on the A side of “No Rules in the Wasteland” where the production quality outshines the previous work and, in general, has more unique compositions and an even more incredible performance. Likewise, this 15-minute long track is far darker in tone and lyrical intent, though largely on a fictional or moderately theatrical level, following in the footsteps of the likes of Candlemass both through its epic scope and its apocalyptic sound. This track specifically is built upon a solid rhythmic backbone and progresses flawlessly, and though the music itself is not necessarily mesmerizing in regards to its difficulty, the ending vocal performance from Karrah Teague is, in a word, crushing. It’s over the top and reaches for a high level that some try and fail miserably to hit, but she nails it, topping off the end of an already brilliant track with what has to be one of the better vocal moments in stoner rock in recent years.
Side B follows suit with the increased production quality, but goes back to regular track lengths and seems to mirror the work on “Favorite Horses” fairly well, again opting for bass-heavy chops, strong lead and backing vocal performances, and an overall grungy atmosphere with the occasional ethereal moment added to a guitar solo. Overall, a fantastic effort on both accounts. The only down-side to these works — the same down-side to most works of stoner rock — is that there is little in the way of intellectual themes, be it philosophical or otherwise. Some people need that quality in their music to fully appreciate what it has to offer — however, if you’re in the ride for the experience and the atmosphere, there’s no doubt that most will find a lot in both of these releases. I will say this though: Outside of these two releases, this certainly sounds like a project that is begging to be heard in a live setting. And wouldn’t luck just have it, they seem to be gearing up for a tour this August / early Autumn, so keep your eyes peeled for their name in your area.
A1) Solid Gold
A2) Mystical Creatures
B1) Space Cadet
B2) Coke Smoker
B3) Nobody’s Fool
“No Rules in the Wasteland“
A1) No Rules in the Wasteland
B1) Pretty Girls in Lace
B2) Stop and Think
B3) Where’s your Marlboro Man now?