Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Human Instinct: 'Stoned Guitar'

Rating: 8/B

Now this is more like it. A raw blues-rock sound, powered-up with Jimi Juice and probably more than a little substance abuse (when they call it 'stoned guitar', the visual pun in the cover art is just a joke, okay?). This short lived 70s act from New Zealand, of all places, stakes its claim as an early stoner/sludge/hard rock legend with opening squalls of the epic title track. Strange, ululating, whines give way to waves of feedback and swirling tides of wah-drenched distortion. Skirting just this close to ripping off 'Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)', 'Stoned Guitar' instead evolves into a groovy, ballsy jam with its own identity and spirit. Of course, the classic blues rock bag of tricks was never as diverse as it was influential, and nothing here will totally fail to remind you of odds and ends by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, early Led Zeppelin or, momentarily, Cream, but in spirit some of this stuff can be seen as aniticpating the art noise gestures of bands like Sonic Youth as much as anything else.

Elsewhere, the good lads of The Human Instinct transform Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's 'Black Sally' into a chugging, scary riff monster. Tunes by songwriting contributor JesseHarper make for more sludgy mayhem, as 'Jugg-a-Jug Song' and 'Midnight Sun' are turned into pretexts for gloriously drawn-out, textural and spacey workouts. A moment of respite arrives in the form of the acoustic ballad, 'Tomorrow', but it feels like a balancing agent, a rest-stop before the final stretch - a blitering cover of Rory Gallagher's 'Railway And Gun', recorded live.

What makes all this work, and stand out in my (admittedly subjective) esteem from, say, Blue Cheer, whose early albums' spirit I salute, but whose actual ability and sensibility I tend to dismiss? In this case, I suppose it would have to be Billy Te Kahika, or Billy TK, the 'Maori Hendrix'. This is guitar-based and guitar-focussed music. Even though Maurice Greer is not a bad singer and drummer at all, and Larry Waide's bass playing is quite good (it carries the song really well during some passages on 'Stoned Guitar', for instance), this album rises or falls on the strength of Billy TK's playing. Mostly, it does pretty well. I'm not sure I'd rate Billy TK up there with Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix as one of the greatest guitarists of the 70s, as some people seem to, but he's certainly a player of cosniderable ability and expressiveness.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: I hate to boil it all down to one person, but the album's called 'Stoned Guitar', and it's only fair to judge it on how effectively that guitar has been stoned. Very effectively in this case. A little more outright diversity - shades of jazz, or more funk, or more full-on psychdedelia would've elvated this album further, but now I'm nitpicking. It is what it is, and it's very good at being that.

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