Vermont-based guitarists and vocalists Matt “MV” Valentine and Erika Elder have created a massive body of recordings over the past decade-plus, first as a textural outgrowth of the shambolic communal ensemble Tower Recordings, and more recently plugging into a heavier electrified approach. While originally a duo, MV & EE have recruited a variety of peers and appeared under such monikers as The MV & EE Medicine Show, MV/EE and The Bummer Road, MV/EE and The Golden Road, and MV/EE and The Golden Smokehound. Deadhead aesthetics often permeate; they have released multiple CD-R sets of live jams presented like the taper’s choice, referenced figures like Keith and Donna Godchaux or (obviously) 1968 Dead debut opener “The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion),” and even covered Dead-songbook classics like “Fire on the Mountain.” Most of these recordings have been issued on their own labels, Child of Microtones and Heroine Celestial Agriculture, though there was a brief bubble of action via Ecstatic Peace/Universal in 2007.
Fuzzweed is the fifth MV & EE set to appear on Three Lobed Recordings (only two of which remain in print). The duo is joined by, among others, usual suspects Mick Flower, Andy “Anram” Ramsay, “Smokehound” Arnold, and Coot Moon on a program of five originals including the “Poor Boy Excursions” suite. For all the trappings of hippie/Deadhead music and “astral ragas,” Fuzweed is surprisingly concise and almost straightforward in approach. Taking into account the limited-edition Fantasy Set CD included with some copies, their work sometimes has more in common with Rhys Chatham, Come, Antietam, or February. Putting forth a sludgy guitar army with the additional guitars of Willie Lane and P.G. Six, “Canned Happiness” and “Speed Queen” are particularly strong. Fuzzweed opens with the instrumental “Environs,” Flower on the Indian shahi baaja and Ramsay on tabla and glockenspiel, fleshed out with lap steel, electric guitar, and EMS Synthi. It’s a brief gem of a piece that matches minimal progressions with gentle, unfurling melodies; I’d almost say that it’s over too quickly, though perhaps a lengthier “jam” might have put the focus less on its kernels of toothy elegance and more on the “long scope.” What’s also immediately clear is how well recorded Fuzzweed is, a far cry from MV’s work in the Tower Recordings, and there’s consistency in that, even though the five tracks here were recorded at different studios.
“Turbine” follows, a gauzy and slinky piece for acoustic guitar, electric fuzz, programmed percussion, harmonica, and voice; there’s a danger that the proceedings will loosen their step as the drumkit breaks its stride midway through, but the trio mostly maintains a lysergic forward motion. “Trailer Trash” is anything but, a folksy and somewhat wispy tune cut through with gooey vocals and MV’s gritty blues-scale soloing. There’s a vibe to this tune that is almost more Manchester, UK than Guilford, VT, its affinity as much shoegaze as it is rural American psych. The side closes with “Jacked Up,” a quartet with Doc Dunn on pedal steel and Coot Moon on clavinet; although a bit more meandering in its improvisational locus, there’s tension in the piece that is interesting.
“Poor Boy Excursions” takes up the entire second side; in Dead parlance, it might read as “Poor Boy > Long Way from Home > Environments,” though it was constructed in the studio. Following the initial steel-string guitar/electric drone scumble underneath Elder’s mountain-girl ramble, the addition of bass and drums shift the music into an improvisation of pining, gritty tendrils, with free-time percussion nudging Elder and Valentine’s strings into areas of chunky declaration and airy imprecision. One is reminded of post-“Diamond Sea” Sonic Youth or other ensembles harnessing toothy drift (even Amon Düül II is relevant). “Environments” appears to be a shift back into a more lyrical progression, with Fahey-like strums, tabla and lamellae taking the music full-circle to the “Environs” opener. Amid a massive catalog of limited-edition releases, it is good to have a more visible set like Fuzzweed available to document not only the scope, but also the power that MV & EE can harness. This music is far from the crunchy, tossed-off vibe that some might expect given the disc’s title and trappings; instead, MV & EE show a striking level of vision, energy, and musicianship.