Casual music fans and walking music encyclopaedias alike are bound to have some sort of preconceived idea for the music of a band that call themselves Purplehaze Ensemble. Even beyond the obvious potential for said band to default on rehashing Hendrixisms, there’s a certain expectation of broad psychedelia in the name. While psych rock influences are indeed present on their self-titled debut, Purplehaze Ensemble might have offered a more accurate notion of their music had they drawn their band name from an Alice in Chains or Deftones lyric. Grunge (and, to a lesser extent, alternative metal) are channelled here through a vaguely experimental filter. Although this relatively individual take on an out-of-favour style makes a solid foundation, Purplehaze Ensemble aren’t so successful in other areas—eclecticism tends to get in the way of songwriting, and many of the quirks in their sound wear out fairly quickly.
It’s the all-too-common case of a debut album that is equal parts potential and problematic. Unquiet Records describes the album as ‘six crushing and impossible to classify songs’—I’d argue that there’s a little hyperbole in that. While Purplehaze Ensemble tread left-field throughout (it goes a long way towards distinguishing them from the crowded ‘stoner rock’ scene), their stylistic experiments are never quite outlandish or unexpected enough to be exciting in and of themselves. Take a look at ‘Siren’s Song’, for instance; Purplehaze Ensemble tread between the lines of riff-centric stoner rock, sludge metal breaks, and a grungy chorus not-so-subtly referencing the aforementioned Alice in Chains. All three of those genres are uniquely identifiable from one another, but the practical shift in tone and tempo isn’t particularly significant—the styles sound like they were prepackaged to fit each other.
That last remark would actually be a good thing too, if it didn’t feel like Purplehaze Ensemble had gone out of their way to go between the three genres as often as possible. Their 2009 demo (as Purplehaze) introduced them as a far less busy stoner metal band; knowing that they came from a more relaxed state of mind, the constant shifts between grunge and sludge feel all the more pronounced. Although I’ll support any band expanding their sound like they do here, I wonder if Purplehaze Ensemble might have fared better without trying so hard to bombard the listener with perceived variety. The transition between ideas isn’t always that satisfying, and the contrived gearshifting styles don’t often compliment the flow of a given song. It feels as if Purplehaze Ensemble care more about creating a unique style than they do about writing memorable songs. The album is eclectic, without necessarily feeling diverse.
Purplehaze Ensemble’s genre-hopping is best exemplified by frontman Maciej Kowalski‘s vocals. By all means he’s got the talent and variety to pull an Alice in Chains-type drawl off as well as a Scott Kelly (Neurosis) yell, but the forced dynamics between the two leave a bigger impression than either style of performance. I would feel more warmly towards an album where they had taken one of these avenues and polished it. The band have the technical ability and natural ambition to do something great, but a greater weight of focus will be needed to see those qualities blossom.
01) Siren’s Song
02) Haunt the Freak
03) Could I
04) Kickin’ Curbs with a Thin Stick
05) Lie is the Answer