Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Formerly Whooping Crane, Now Strange Haze, Same Great Album

“You have to be stoned to listen to this” is usually an insult. We don’t ordinarily advocate for or against the use of one substance or another – that should be an individual choice, and a legal one. But if the phrase “strange haze” has any kind of special meaning for you, Strange Haze’s album Riffin’ for Rent is the kind that you really ought to hear after indulging. If your dad still gets stoned, smoke him up and then try to convince him that this band was around when he was doing it all the time. He just might believe you.

Strange Haze (formerly known as Whooping Crane) should have been the band in Almost Famous. Hilariously satirical, sometimes cruelly, sometimes fondly, the Brooklyn rockers’ stoner shtick works as well as it does because they’re such excellent musicians. When’s the last time you heard a metal band with a drummer who can swing like crazy? Everybody knows that you have to have chops to play metal really well, but these guys don’t just know their early 70s stoner music, they know soul, and Stones, and Sabbath, and Skynyrd, and probably a bunch of bands from that era who were quickly forgotten because they weren’t as good. That’s what Strange Haze sound like. They’ll riff on a single chord for what seems minutes on end, and yet there’s something fresh and unselfconsciously fun about it. They know every cliche in the book and aren’t afraid to employ them wherever they’d be the most ridiculous. Likewise, their lyrics, delivered in a deadpan, period perfect faux-bluesy drawl, are beyond hilarious.

The opening track is She’s a Knockout, which sounds like the MC5 as done by Grand Funk Railroad. It’s about a girl “who was born in the heart of the whooping crane,” with an irresistible multiple-tracked bluesmetal solo out. Track two, Tomm Tapp starts out as sludgy but swinging riff-metal in the Poobah vein and adds honking harmonica for, you know, that authentic bluesy feeling – and suddenly goes all starlit and rapt for a second before the bludgeoning begins again. “Can you see the fork in the road? Close your eyes before they explode!” They follow that with Hang Loose, six minutes of wah funk, Sabbath style with some woozy southern overtones: “Summer of love don’t tell no lies ’cause we’re underneath the firefly…smoking the kingsized ultralights, still looking kinda tight.”

One Hit Sally is a tribute to a girl convinced that her smoke-filled room is more interesting than anything that could possibly exist outside it, pulsing along on a Stax/Volt bass groove with grand guignol art-rock guitar flourishes. The perfectly titled Voomp! keeps the funky groove going (if you remember early 70s Texas “hard rock” band Bloodrock, this is that kind of thing). The funniest song on the album is Straight Dope, playfully taking a 60s soul riff, adding more of that honking harmonica and a priceless lyric:

Walked down to the marble garden with a buckskin bottle of wine
Sometimes I get so drunk I can sing just like a child

The bonus track that you can get from their bandcamp site is That’s More Like It, working both sides of the Atlantic for a riff-loaded hash buzz, then a skunkweed heartland metal vibe: “Make you crawl like an armadillo, armageddon in an armchair!” In addition to this one, Strange Haze will be on the Soda Shop’s upcoming free compilation coming out Feb 22.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 1/9/11

OK, mini-vacation is over, we’re firing up the engines again. To get things started, as we do every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Sunday’s is #751:

Blue Oyster Cult – Tyranny and Mutation

The artsiest and most ornate metal band, at least until the new wave of British metal of the late 70s/early 80s, Blue Oyster Cult blended elegant classical flourishes and epic grandeur into their riff-rocking roar and stomp. Sarcastic, vicious and sometimes satirical, they collaborated with Patti Smith and were a considerable influence on punk, new wave and goth music, covered both by Radio Birdman and the Minutemen. This is their best studio album, from 1973. It kicks off with the split-second precise tripletracked riffage of The Red and the Black, followed by the gorgeously crescendoing O.D.’d on Life Itself. Hot Rails to Hell, Baby Ice Dog and Teen Archer are the heavy tracks here; 7 Screaming Diz-Busters is something of an epic, with a deliciously evil siren of an outro. Mistress of the Salmon Salt is catchy and matter-of-factly macabre; the best song here is the ghoulishly watery Wings Wetted Down, punctuated by a beautifully dark chorus-pedal solo by lead guitarist Buck Dharma. Everything the band released  through the live On Your Feet or On Your Knees album is worth hearing; forty years after they started, they’re still touring with a slightly revamped lineup and can still put on a good show. Here’s a random torrent.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poobah’s Classic 1972 Stoner-Metal Debut Is Back in Print

In 1972, Poobah, a high school rock band from Youngstown, Ohio recorded Let Me In, a fuzzed-out stoner metal album that became a cult classic: copies of the original vinyl go for hundreds of dollars on the collector market. Little did teenage guitarist Jim Gustafson, bassist Phil Jones and drummer Glenn Wiseman know that they’d created a psychedelic, proto-metal masterpiece. Originally reissued in 1994 on a small, now defunct label, Ripple Music’s newly remastered re-release contains the original album’s seven tracks as well as twelve bonus cuts featuring additional band members (ten of the songs included on a limited-edition double gatefold black-and-white vinyl album). The obvious influence is Black Sabbath, right down to the catchy simplicity of the hooks, the way they’ll hang on a single chord for minutes on end, the heavy echo on the vocals, the fat midrange tone of the bass and Wiseman’s busy but absolutely brilliant drumming. Gustafson’s sunbaked, bluesy playing is shockingly terse, especially for this kind of music. As long and convoluted as some of these songs are, he doesn’t waste notes, tossing off one brief, incisive riff after another with a heavylidded leer.

The band’s signature song, Mr. Destroyer motors along on an unstoppable midtempo groove, Gustafson’s doubletracked solo phasing back and forth between channels, and a conga break with screams echoing in the background: Spinal Tap central! It’s quite a contrast with what follows it, the surprisingly gentle, folk-tinged ballad Enjoy What You Have, Wiseman’s amazing drums picking it up little by little. The slow ba-bump boogie Live to Work is a workingman’s anthem: “You know I can’t stand this hell.” Bowleen, the eeriest number here, has a Syd Barrett feel, the sample at the end providing an irresistibly funny answer to the question of what it’s about. The fifth track, Rock n Roll is unhinged Chuck Berry rock as Uriah Heep might have done it, except with better drums; the title cut is a 7-11 parking lot riff-rocker with a long In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida drum solo – all that’s missing is the crowd noise! – and a gleeful solo guitar break.

Most of the bonus tracks are strong as well. Make a Man Outta You, one of the few here that was previously issued, layers one delicious, reverb-drenched sheet of wild tremolo-picking on top of another. A one-chord stoner jam, Upside Down Highway has Gustafson’s guitar echoing around a catchy, circling bass riff, finally delivering a long, wild, Tony Iommi-style wah solo. The closest thing to Sabbath here is the hilarious Walk of the Bug: “When you’re asleep in your bed you’ll feel his legs on your head.” The bass walks on your face, the guitar injects the venom and it’s over. There’s also a couple of tasty bluesmetal instrumentals, a late MC5 style metal-pop number manufactured specifically for a car radio audience, and a lone attempt to weld funk to a blotto metal groove. The whole thing ranks with Flower Marching Band, the original Iron Maiden and Sir Lord Baltimore as one of the classics of early metal. And if you like these guys, you might want to check out their labelmates and early 70s contemporaries the JPT Scare Band, a Kansas City outfit who split their time between skin-peeling acid-metal and a more commercial Allman Bros.-style sound.

October 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments