An album called Deep Thuds. By a band called Spacin’. Only seven tracks in all, most of which stagger past the five-minute mark and well beyond. Sleeve art that features a trippy, drippy incarnation of The Rolling Stones logo. What’s not to like?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: let’s put this lo-fi Philadelphia quartet into context. Jason Killinger is the main man; his wife Eva plays drums, Sean Hamilton plays bass and Paul Sukeena is on lead guitar. Mr Killinger is a member of Birds Of Maya, whose first two albums – 2008′s Vol. 1 and 2010′s Ready To Howl – are regularly cited as gems of the genre. Up to speed? Then let’s begin.
Deep Thuds opens with Empty Mind, a deeply uncaring, metronomic chug that takes three power chords and gradually builds them into a hypnotising whole. It’s neither big nor clever, but don’t be fooled by the low-grade recording and indecipherable vocals: this is how music sounds at its basest level. No sleight of hand, no post-production – just some guitar, some percussion and six minutes to make it live.
Stoner rock to a tee, then – or so the listener suspects until track two rolls around. From its title to its ambient, almost directionless form, Some Future (Burger) goes some way to explaining the band’s name. Though experimental, it’s not unlistenable; though cold and spacious, it’s irresistibly contemplative. Though unorthodox, there’s just enough here to keep the attentive ear enthralled.
Wrong Street is equally unusual, its meandering riff and pulsing bass line are scraped over the track as if they were broadcast over shortwave radio or recorded from another room – or both. In the wrong hands, it’s a gimmick – a quick fix for an earthy sound – but you get the sense that Spacin’ are legitimately low-tech. For all that, Wrong Street sounds like the distorted audio of an age-worn videotape, you simply can’t tear your ears away.
Chest Of Steel, similarly, takes the component parts of 1970s hard rock and distills them into a battered and rusty drum – Mr Killinger still decidedly unintelligible – and, like its forerunners, stays the course from the first beat to the last, swaying not one inch in either direction.
It is something of a relief, actually, when Oh, Man quickly abandons five seconds of opening static in favour of damaged afrobeat. Next to its trackmates, its comparative crystal clarity is nothing short of a revelation – and when a psychedelic, overdriven, wah-fuelled solo takes centre stage, one can almost bring to mind the long-forgotten blaxploitation movies that made such sounds their staple. Thereafter, it’s business as usual: Sunshine, No Shoes cuts loose with a timeless feel-good riff and carefree abandon, revealing that the thick-lipped album art is not the only nod to Jagger and co, while Ego-Go rounds out the affair with an almighty crescendo.
It’s not for everybody – and even the most adventurous ear is sure to yearn for cleaner production at times, if only just to hear the music better – but Deep Thuds is impressive in the literal sense of the word. Spacin’ they may be, but they take their craft seriously.