Fu Manchu : Clone Of The Universe

I guess I’ve never been much of a desert rock kind of guy. I’m pretty pale, so the desert holds some pretty painful fates for me. Not even SPF 50 is going to protect me from the raw, naked sun out in Joshua Tree territory, man. I’ll fry like a lobster. Melt some butter and feast on my well-cooked legs. Go ahead, it’s okay. Don’t let me go to waste. Stoner rock? I don’t know. Gangly dudes wearing Uriah Heep t-shirts, bell-bottom jeans, and long greasy hair hanging in their faces posing next to a 1978 Pontiac Firebird(T-top, natch) as they engage a Big Muff and power down on the neck of a beat-up Gibson SG. Smoking up some ditch weed and putting on their best Amboy Dukes-meets-Blue Cheer airs.

Ehh, that’s never been my thing.

Fu Manchu is a band that’s been doing the whole stoner/desert/70s party rock thing for years. Like 24 years, to be exact. Since 1994 these Orange County punks-turned-fuzz rock goons have put out 12 full-length records. Their 12th is the brand new Clone Of The Universe. While I’ve appreciated their bleary-eyed, fuzzy stoner rock from time to time it’s never been something I hit up very often. But with Clone Of The Universe I’ve been reeled in. Maybe it’s a contact high. Maybe I’m needing to be in some other frame of mind. Either way, I’m digging this buzz.

First thing that hits me about this album is it just seems a hell of a lot meatier than their previous output. The guitars are dense and the drums are driving. There’s presence in the vocals, too. “Intelligent Worship” sounds like a song with a purpose. It’s a hefty chunk of desert rock, for sure. But there’s also some Earthless vibes going on here. Before the production always felt a little thin to me. Here, these cats have thickened up their sound. “Bow down, to the one you create”, indeed. “(I’ve Been)Hexed” is just heavy as hell. There’s a paranoid anxiety that engulfs this song, and I don’t think it’s just the weed. Fu Manchu feel plugged into the world around them and it’s coming out in these songs. “Don’t Panic” has some punk rock vibes going on. Scott Hill sounds completely engaged here. I know he says “Don’t Panic”, but listening to this track all you want to do is panic.

“Nowhere Left To Hide” puts me in mind of White Hills with the vocals and the massive wall of fuzzy guitar. Maybe it’s the other way around, maybe White Hills reminds me of Fu Manchu. I don’t know. Either way, this song is all molten riffs and post-apocalyptic doom. Great stuff. “Clone Of The Universe” sports a hell of a groove. You’re in and you’re out. Just how God intended. Finally, we’re treated to a whole side of “Il Mostro Atomico”, an 18-minute epic fuzz explosion that begs the question “When is enough enough?” The answer, when you’re talking about massive guitar squalls, doom-y progressive vibes, and Rush’ Alex Lifeson playing lead guitar is it’s never enough. There’s never really a moment where the vibes wain. This one carries you through from start to finish. Bringing Alex Lifeson in to put some Canadian magic on this track was a righteous move. Nice job, Fu Manchu.

Clone Of The Universe has really sort of opened my eyes to the wonder of Fu Manchu. I’ve given them cursory glances here and there, but not anymore. Clone Of The Universe is a high I’m good with.

7.8 out of 10

Harsh Toke and the Friday Spin

DSC04202I’m officially done working for a week now. Hello vacation. After another extremely slow and boring 10 hour workday I was ready to come home and spin some tunes and drink a beer. Harsh Toke’s Light Up And Live was what was thrown on the turntable and damn if it’s not hitting the spot right about now.

I heard about Harsh Toke through the always knowledgeable and very cool Morrison Agen. He’s the cat that owns and operates the fantastic Neat Neat Neat Records in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Anyways, awhile back he’d mentioned to me that I should check this Chicago band out as they were the cat’s pajamas. Well of course I forgot and never did check them out. Enter the year end “best of” lists and Morrison had Harsh Toke’s debut record on his. So I found their Bandcamp page and listened to two songs that hit well over 40 minute mark. I was sold. Since I wasn’t heading to the Fort anytime soon I called my pal John at Karma Records in my hometown and he had Light Up And Live waiting for me today when I got out of work. With a beer in hand and the stylus dropped, my Friday night has finally begun.

Light Up And Live is a stoner rock jam record of the highest order. You can practically hear the bong water swishing back and forth as the album begins. It’s a great mix of Blue Cheer garage gruff and Earthless zoned-out jamming. I’m sure these guys were high as hell recording this thing, and that’s okay with me. They may be baked, but they aren’t just pie-eyed noodling. They know what the hell they’re doing.

I’ve noticed that I’ve really been into this stoner/doom metal thing lately. I’m not sure why. Is it a mid-life crisis? Am I regressing? Do I want to own something called a “King Bong”? No to all of those things. It’s really pretty simple, actually. I’m just digging the jamming, man. It started a month or so ago when I bought a copy of Sleep’s Dopesmoker. That is a massive, funky, bleary-eyed masterpiece of sludgy riffs and THC-induced grunts. I can’t imagine how baked those guys were recording that epic album about the “Weedian” people. You have this hour long epic song with Matt Pike sludging his way through with a Gibson Les Paul and a Marshall(or was it a Hi-Watt)amp with the drums and bass coming along, red-eyed and in the zone. Another album I’m totally into at the moment is Electric Wizard’s Come My Fanatics. This album is an hour and a half long and filled with nothing but stoner/doom metal prototypes. “Solarian 13” is proof that God is dead(or at least in the midst of a million year nap behind the sun.) I attempted to listen to Bongripper, but it wasn’t my thing. It sounded more like Slipknot than Sleep. And now, I’m zoning out to Harsh Toke.

So do I want to go find some shady dude down at the Time-Out Inn and grab me a dime bag? Do I want search some overgrown fields for some wild weed? No. I think what appeals to me in regards to stoner rock is that I think you can enjoy it more NOT stoned. I’d rather listen to Earthless, White Hills, Harsh Toke, and Sleep stone sober. Okay, so I indulge in the oats, hops, and barley. I’m not completely sober. But the music alone is mind-altering enough for me. I dig where it takes my(reasonably)clear mind. The beer is that chill pill I hear about so often. And when it comes to creating music, I’m more creative with a cup of coffee than I ever would be with a beer, or weed.

But that’s just me. There’s so many albums and artists that I absolutely love and have been inspired by that were completely out of their gourd baked. Whatever gets you through the night, baby. Whatever gets you through the night.

All right, it’s time to flip the record and snag another cold one out of the fridge.

DSC04203DSC04158

The Black Angels- Indigo Meadow

indigo meadowAs soon as those tribal drums start in and that Psycho-esque dissonance pipes up you pretty much know what you’re in for throughout the next 45 minutes or so. Indigo Meadow isn’t any great leap for The Black Angels. Did you like Phosphene Dream? Well you’re probably going to like Indigo Meadow just fine. All the hallmarks of a Black Angels album are here;  BRMC posturing, Nuggets borrowing, cult-ish vibe and dark psychedelia. Add just a touch of pop seasoning and you have yourself a plate full of goodies that aren’t good for you, but they taste pretty decent going down.

“Indigo Meadow” starts things off like a Black Angels album should start; complete with big drums, “evil”-sounding guitars, and Alex Maas singing “Lay your hands, on my chest girl, you’ve been a problem since the moment I met ya“. It’s a sound that’s permeated every album The Black Angels have put out since 2006. Nothing more, nothing less. A noticeable difference is the production. It’s much cleaner and polished than previous albums.  This may be good or bad, depending on how you like your psychedelic rock delivered to your ears. “Evil Things” goes a little more metal with an almost Black Sabbath feel until the bridge when it stops momentarily for a quick ‘flower power’ moment. Pretty soon the organ comes in and it sounds like Tony Iommi jamming with The Doors. “Don’t Play With Guns” is the biggest change in their sound, with an almost pop feel to it and Maas sounding as if the spirit of Black Francis took over his body for the recording. This song at times has a Pixies sound to it, though I don’t think that was a conscious decision on The Black Angels part.  Just happenstance I suppose.

A band that never seems to get mentioned as an influence on so many of these stoner/space/psych rock outfits is The Doors. Maybe it’s just not cool to mention the ‘Lizard King’ anymore, I don’t know, but listening to quite a few of these songs on Indigo Meadow I’m reminded so much The Doors that I feel I must mention them. “Holland” would’ve fit just fine on Waiting For The Sun, for example. And “Always Maybe”? There’s an empty spot on Strange Days where it could’ve sat. But The Doors aren’t the only band I hear in the distant and gloomy echo of the Fulltone Tape Echo and the Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb. “Love Me Forever” sounds like a Byrds and The Animals collaboration until the fuzzed-out riff comes in to remind us that these guys like things loud, too. And there’s still plenty of Strawberry Alarm Clock and 13th Floor Elevators acid-tinged tracers, err, I mean traces. Closing track “Black Isn’t Black” is the best of the lot. A doom and gloom dark blues psych monster of a track that -to my ears- sounds like a band not wearing their influences on their sleeves, but a band taking their influences and making something completely their own. Here’s hoping “Black Isn’t Black” is the jumping off point next time around.

The Black Angels have taken their sound not a step up, but a good few steps forward at least. The sound is brighter, but the haze lingers.

6 out of 10