Linus Pauling Quartet, Bag of Hammers
Leave it to the Linus Pauling Quartet to come up with something like this, seriously: a monolithic, fuzz-drenched, utterly badass chunk of headbanging stoner-psych-rock all about Cimmerian gods, post-Apocalyptic wastelands, playing D&D, and (of course) somebody else smoking all your pot.
If you think I’m kidding, well, you’ve probably never heard the LP4 before; these guys are well-known for their tongue-in-cheek lyricism, with songs that both worship and poke fun at the altar of psychedelic rock. With Bag of Hammers, though, they’ve toned down the more overtly wacky stuff, instead burying those quirky lyrics beneath layer upon layer of heavy, sludgy, metallic rawk, the kind that makes you want to grow your hair long like you did when you were (okay, when I was) a kid.
Despite its name, mind you, while Bag of Hammers does indeed have plenty of crushingly heavy moments, that’s not everything these guys are about. Rather, this album feels like the band finally trying to burn their own special constellation into the vast, unknowable psych-rock cosmos.
Where their last two albums — one of which, admittedly, 2010′s Horns of Ammon, was an odds-and-ends collection of unreleased tracks — seem scattershot looking backwards, with the band bouncing their way through jangly country tunes and sidewise nods to The Scene (which I love, don’t get me wrong), BOH feels like a real-live, honest-to-God album, not just a collection of songs. This is one solid, thick, weighty slab of stoner-rock awesomeness.
The whole thing hangs together astoundingly well, even when it switches gears from the sludgy, Sabbathine stoner-rock of opener “Crom” to the bass-y, staggering psych roar of “She Did Not Know” (which is the aforementioned song about a girl who makes the mistake of passing the bong around only to discover — shock! horror! — that somebody else smoked it all).
Then there’s “Victory Gin,” which references both 1984 and Soylent Green in the span of four minutes, all over a surprisingly bright, shiny, chime-y psych-pop that brings to mind The Byrds and “Tomorrow Never Knows”-era Beatles in equal measure.
“Starchimp” tells the tale of a space-bound primate over a ballsy, blues rock backdrop, while “Rust” — probably the most unusual thing the band’s done in a long time, even though it fits fucking perfectly — is hazy and hypnotic, with alluring/menacing female vocals courtesy of Hearts of Animals singer Mlee Marie (who also does the solemn-Valkyrie thing at the beginning of “Crom”).
The latter track is flat-out mindblowing, frankly, and more reminiscent of XTRMNTR-age Primal Scream, Silversun Pickups, and (no, I’m not kidding) early Smashing Pumpkins than it is any of the band’s stoner-rock contemporaries. At the same time, though, again, it fits. I don’t know how the LP4 crew makes it work, but it does.
After that, it’s on to “Saving Throw,” which is quite possibly the most gnarly, rawest song ever written about actually playing Dungeons & Dragons. I mean, how can I not like a track that begins, “Wake up, wake up, raise your swords! There’s a gibbering mouther among us!”, and later on talks about mind flayers using psionic blasts on the hapless adventurers? Yes, it absolutely makes me a nerd that I immediately knew what singer Clinton Heider was howling about, and I’m going to fly that flag proudly.
The churn-and-stomp of “Homonculus” comes next, with its oddly Rage Against The Machine-esque break, and then the band finishes out with the woozy, dazed “Stonebringer,” which drags sunbaked high desert rock out into the swamp and introduces it to multiple Texas beers before forcing it to read a whole lot of Robert E. Howard books. The track’s almost nine minutes long, but I found myself surprised when it ended.
Come to think of it, that’s the thing that hits me most when I reach the end of Bag of Hammers: why couldn’t they have made it longer? And the album — a double-LP on vinyl, I believe — isn’t short, by any means, with only one song out of eight being under four minutes long. It’s just that what the Linus Pauling guys have built here is just so amazing and enthralling that I don’t want it to end.
(Feature photo by Jason Smith.)