Sea of Dirt
Stoner-rock bands usually dont want to be called that, right? Maybe they have a point, and maybe they dont. The only way to find out was to apply the Weeklys rigorous scientific standards to the question.
We obtained two volunteer Subjects (S1 and S2), put them in a controlled environment, got them stoned on Cannabis sativa and made them listen to new stoner rock. We observed the process, writing down their remarks.
The subjects were a decade apart in age. They were both male, because women, even if they smoke dope, dont like stoner rock. Well, lets say that few women like it. For the sake of clinical accuracy.
We limited our study to C. sativa (procured under a U.S. government research program administered by Joseph Walsh University in Leadville, Colorado) for five reasons. One: On acid and mescaline, everything sounds good. Two: On downs, nobody cares. Three: On heroin, subjects dont stay awake. Four: Speed is fast; this music is slow. Five: Dont talk to us about mushrooms, peyote or Ecstasy, which are for peace-and-love types only; stoner rockers are predominantly hostile. Sample motto, from Electric Wizard: Legalise drugs and murder.
For those who havent heard it, stoner rock is all the same, yet some examples are better than others. All of it has slow, distorted guitar riffs and tumbling, off-accented drum grooves (the drummer tends to be the best musician), and all of it emphasizes very low frequencies. Much of it has high-pitched, enervated vocals that are mixed way down so you can barely hear them. Often, lyrics are about mythology, hostility or being stoned. Instrumentals are encouraged.
ELECTRIC WIZARD DOPETHRONE (The Music Cartel)
English band, formed in 1993, went away for four years because of drug abuse, arson, robbery and near-death experiences, has now returned. Booklet contains picture of biker chicks navel.
S1: It hits my body in a pot-friendly abdominal region, almost trips me out with its sine-wave pulse. They can sure space out for a long, long time. (In one track, over 15 minutes with bare-minimum changes.)
S2: The bass players into a different frequency. Its a cool groove, but I like to hear more flashy guitar stuff when Im stoned.
S1: Kind of sloppy, but thats okay.
S2: This doesnt make me want to get into it deeply.
ACID KING (four songs), THE MYSTICK KREWE OF CLEARLIGHT (two songs), FREE . . . (Mans Ruin)
The picture of another biker chicks navel is on the cover this time. The Krewe features legendary stoner singer-guitarist Wino (of the Obsessed and Spirit Caravan) on one song.
S1: These guys [Mystick Krewe] have a ride cymbal that pops out of the mix in a really irritating way. But I dont think Id notice it if I were not stoned.
S2 (checking out the Krewes B3 organ sound and relatively clean but heavy single-note riffs): Who do they think they are, Deep Purple?
S1 (eight minutes into the 11-minute Veiled): I think I finally get it.
S1: This instrumental [Blaze In by Acid King] is okay. Very heavy. (Now hes listening to Blaze Out.) I dont know why, but Im having thoughts about women. Very unusual for this shit. I think Im getting a boner.
S2: Go stand over there.
SLOTHTHE VOICE OF GOD (The Music Cartel)
A new Brit band. Vocals are more up-front. Release date February 13.
S2: They succeed in having no melodies.
S1: Its dumb, and not in a good way. Tries to be stony, but hits me in an unstony region of the upper chest.
S2: This [Into the Sun] is the ugliest love song Ive ever heard. The singer should have more authority.
S1 (listening to Lord of the Gallows): Whats he singing? Sea of dirt?
S2 (consulting lyric sheet): Centre of the Earth.
S1: I liked sea of dirt better.
DEAD MEADOW, DEAD MEADOW (Tolotta, www.tolotta.com)
Young band from D.C. They say they want to be positive, want to be classic rock, but are still stonerish. Steal from Hendrix and Steve Miller as well as the de rigueur Black Sabbath. Dragons and castles on the cover.
S2: Youve got to hit that joint harder.
S1 (hits joint harder, coughs at length): Now, this feels like a band. The way they play their riffs is, like, perfect. Casual, but right in the pocket. Great textures, weird stuff in the background. And the songs go somewhere. It gives me a warm feeling in my gut.
S2: Theres no tendency to be manic. (At the Edge of the World comes on, with its thick suspended chords on acoustic guitar.) You always play this song. One Neil Young in the world is too many.
S1: Dont you want to be challenged?
S2: Okay. Musics not gonna hurt me.
BLACK SABBATHBLACK SABBATH (Warner Bros.)
Every experiment needs a control. This is it: the band all stoner-rock groups copy, from 1970.
S1: Black Sabbath stuck in a lot of fun stuff. Jazzy beats. Celtic interludes. Amazing solos. I wonder if they knew nobody else would think all the side trips were worth copying. Why do you think they did it?
S2: Because they could?
On a different day, S1 is observed not stoned, listening to some of this music on headphones. The nearby presence of a Child (C) and a Woman (W) renders the experience scientifically inconclusive, but the data have anecdotal value.
C (waves hands so S1 will remove headphones): What are you doing?
S1: Listening. (He realizes that hes been beating on a clipboard with both hands and a pen, and that this can be heard all over the house.) And drumming.
C: Stop it.
Shortly after, W enters and waves hands so S1 will remove headphones.
W: Do you realize that youve been yawning?
S1: So what?
W: When you yawn, you make a sound.
S1: Most people make a sound when they yawn.
W: Well, when you yawn your throat makes this choking, croaking sound. Its disgusting. Youve been doing it a lot, and with those headphones on, you cant even hear it. But I hear it.
S1: And you think Im doing it on purpose?
One of the findings of our overall experiment is that stoner rock can sometimes make you yawn, whether or not you are stoned, and this axiom has analogues, one of which is that being stoned doesnt necessarily help you enjoy stoner rock. While Electric Wizard sounds better when youre stoned, for instance, Sloth sounds better when youre straight. To S1, Dead Meadow sounds excellent whether hes drunk, stoned or straight, so this may be a group whose music many people will buy at some point. Or maybe just he will.
S1 also relates an experience from his youth that may be informative. When he was a teenager, he heard acid rock such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and Ultimate Spinach, all of which were then brand-new. A couple of years later, he heard new, heavier, non-hippie pot-smoking music such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. He liked and understood each of them immediately, even though he would not drop his first acid or smoke his first pot for a long time thereafter.
We may conclude, with near scientific certainty, that calling music stoner rock does not mean that either the musicians or the listeners need to be stoned in order for maximum communication to take place. So, yes, musicians are correct in preferring not to be stuck with that tag. But for however long the trend lasts, theyre going to be called stoner rockers anyway.
So they might as well get used to it.
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