by Fred Mills
The kids don’t know, but the old record collectors understand: While clueless, college-age record store clerks freeze up like spotlit deer when you utter the dreaded phrase, “Do you have any psychedelic music here?” and start praying some techno-hunting hipster will tap ’em on the shoulder, psych will always be a case of “you know it when you hear it.”
Cambridge quartet Major Stars know psych. Featuring guitar heroes Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar (both ex-Crystalized Movements and Magic Hour), the Stars’ third album is loud but always tuneful, free-your-mind hoodoo. For most folks, the notion of a band specializing in extended instrumental jams can conjure aggravating images of dreadlocked white chicks and their hacky-sack-kicking boyfriends spare-changing you outside the venue. Distant Effects is no bad Dick’s Picks flashback, however. The Stars unfurl thick columns of sound whose multilayered textures are as startlingly complex as their delivery is tautly, expertly wound. Case in point: the 15-minute “Elephant,” which progresses from humble overtures of murmured/chanted vocalese and delicate fret pluckings into a throbbing, Hendrixian interstellar epic juiced with contemporary voltage (think “Third Stone From The Sun” if it had been composed by Sonic Youth for Daydream Nation) that gradually coalesces into a feedbacky, ambient-drone denouement. You’re scarred when it’s over, but strangely comforted too.
Nebula is also demonstrably psych — in a rowdy, bong-huffing, power-trio way. The Whittier, Calif., outfit, featuring refugees who defected from SoCal stoner-rock kings Fu Manchu, was most recently spotted issuing a couple of albums on Sub Pop; Dos E.P.’s, as the title suggests, mostly comprises a pair of vinyl slabs from ’99, the 10-inch Sun Creature EP and a 12-inch that was split with the band Lowrider. And it all smokes, from the Mudhoney-does-Black Sabbath wah-wah fest of “Anything From You” and the gonna-fly-my-freak-flag, fuzztone overdrive of “Fall Of Icarus” to the lascivious “Smokin’ Woman” (whose guitar/electric piano arrangement reveals a jazz-blues side to the band) and the blue-collar boogying going on in “Long Day” — play it on classic-rock radio between Grand Funk and BTO tracks and no one’ll blink. (The latter tune is, along with two others, a previously unreleased recording from last year.) While Nebula approaches its craft from the opposite direction as Major Stars, e.g. free your ass and your mind will then follow, the band is no less visceral or vital.
E-mail Fred Mills at email@example.com.