Purple Skies and Bleeding Ears

When the forces of nature that are Heavy Blanket and Earthless come together you’d think this is going to be an earth-shattering, mind-melting moment in time. You’d believe that the earth’s lava-rich core would certainly spout forth and create a chasm of molten rock like the universe has yet to see. You would also expect that this was nothing more than some weird late night snack-induced dream. Surely this one-time coming together of Earthless and Heavy Blanket was nothing more than an overworked imagination pushing buttons inside some stoner/doom rock fan’s dense skull.

IMG_1899Turns out the stoner dude’s imagination was not playing tricks on him. Earthless’ rhythm section of Tim Eginton and Mario Rubalcaba got together with Heavy Blanket’s guitar power duo of J Mascis and Graham Clise for an hour long guitar freakout at Roadburn Festival and it was recorded for prosperity’s sake. The result is the album Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket : In A Dutch Haze. In rock excess fashion the album is a double LP consisting of one song titled “Paradise in a Purple Sky”. It’s nearly 59 minutes gather up enough momentum to power a rocket into the heart of the sun, rhythm workouts that would make Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker blush, and yet this one flounders more than it flourishes.

FullSizeRender (92)So let me start out right now by saying all four parties in attendance on this Dutch stage are in top form. Earthless are one of my absolute favorite space/jam rock bands, period. Their beefed-up, caffeinated take on Hendrix and Cream is bar none one of the most interesting things going on in the California rock scene. It seems that if you throw a bong, some Goodwill apparel, and a couple Kustom amps in front of a few burnouts that they suddenly become the toast of Tee Pee Records. But with Earthless these guys are on another level. In an interview they said they weren’t stoner rock, they were “coffee rock”. This statement stuck with me as it made these three dudes that play incredibly heavy and bluesy music relatable to me.

“I love rock and roll and I love coffee, therefore I love Earthless.” -Me

For being “Earthless”, these guys are pretty down to earth. Besides the guitar genius of Isaiah Mitchell, the rhythm section of drummer Mario Rubalcaba and bassist Tim Eginton keep the ultra heavy jams floating above the rest and offer a solid foundation for Mitchell to lose his mind for upwards of 30 minutes(“From The Ages” clocks in at 30:55 and not a second is wasted.) With a rhythm section like this J Mascis and Graham Clise have a solid starting point to take us into the outer realms of the galaxy. Well, we get into the atmosphere a few times, anyways.

FullSizeRender (91)Here’s the problem, the guitar workouts by Mascis and Clise are great, unfortunately the workouts are happening simultaneously and it can be a little much. With each guy panned either left or right you have two conversations happening at the same time. It’s like walking into a party and there are two rap sessions happening at the same time. You can’t hone in on one or the other, they just keep buzzing in your ears. That’s what’s happening here. Both guys are vying for your attention and it’s just annoying. There are moments throughout where one guy brings it back a bit and the other lets loose and those are the moments where the magic is. The rest of the time it just feels like a shouting match between two people that have equally interesting points of view. For me I like these sorts of instrumental deluges to have a semblance of cohesion much like the great jazz improvisations. Even within the guise of jazz improv there are still legitimate rules and guidelines that are followed. Everyone has a solo, but not at the same time. While one is taking that well deserved spotlight everyone else keeps things going rhythmically. I wish Mascis and Clise had followed this rule, as it would’ve made a much more satisfying 58 minutes and 30 seconds. For the most part this jam is just a cacophony of wild-eyed guitar noodling that doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s like going down into your friend’s basement and watching said friend’s older brother noodle for an hour. Sure, the guy’s good, but you’re getting hungry and you were promised a look at your friend’s dad’s Penthouse collection under the bed in the guest bedroom.

IMG_1902Also, there’s not much dynamically happening here. The guys start out in more of a slow, menacing pace but quickly pick things up into freakout mode and pretty much stay in that mode throughout the rest of the song. They veer between Sabbath crunch and more punk rock aesthetics, and never really leave that frantic pace. After awhile it begins to feel more drone-y than rock, but not intentionally. What started out as defined begins to get a little white noise-ish. While I’m very familiar with Earthless, I’m not so much with Heavy Blanket. Maybe this is their modus operandi? I don’t know.

As with previous Roadburn recordings, this one is top notch. It was engineered impeccably and the packaging is great, too. The animated album cover is great and turns the guys into almost Mort Drucker-ish caricatures. Colored vinyl never hurt anyone, either. Never, in fact.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh. Maybe I’m just so smitten with Earthless that I feel this is just less than stellar. Maybe I’m wondering where Isaiah Mitchell is and why isn’t he on hand to save us all from this guitar wicked-ry. All of these may be true. This recording does have its moments of greatness, but sometimes you’ve gotta know when to dial it down and give the ears a break. Nuance, man. You’ve gotta have nuance. And even the most jammiest of jams need to have some twists and turns. Sure, the journey is number one, but a destination would be nice.

Or at least a stop for an occasional pee break.

9 thoughts on “Purple Skies and Bleeding Ears

  1. This sounds really pretty brilliant, JH. Why wasn’t I aware of Heavy Blanket, though!? When did this happen!?

    I remember the first time I really heard J Mascis. It was on a Mike Watt album. I thought the guitar was all a bit meandering, at the time. I wasn’t much into Dinosaur Jr. but I started listening to them a while later (I wasn’t all that taken by Green Mind at the time, but Bug was awesome). Hand It Over was my favourite. I don’t know exactly what it was about that one, but it was simultaneously claustrophobic and flowery. Wonderful.

    Anyhoo, I need to investigate further!


  2. Interesting – much as I love the cover, this is a bit too much of a headache for me. I think you nailed it, there’s not enough space in these grooves to let all the flavour out. It’s a bit headachey.

    Liked by 1 person

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