The Gris Gris The Gris Gris

[Birdman; 2004]

Styles: classic psychedelic revivalism
Others: The Rolling Stones, Make Up, Clinic, The Velvet Underground

Let me get this straight: I'm not a drug user; never have been, never will be. I don't look down on those who choose to live their lives this way, but I certainly don't promote or condone the use of illicit substances. But every now and then... I suppose exceptions can be made to any rule. On this note, I must say that the debut by Oakland "organic psychedelic bliss" quartet The Gris Gris is without a single shred of a doubt in my mind, the drug album of 2004.

Masterminded by Oakland-by-way-of-Texas songwriter Greg Ashley, the Gris Gris play an incredibly dense, indescribable amalgam of late '60s psychedelia, musique concrete, straight-ahead indie rock, and what might be described as 'freak-folk.' Think Roky Erickson fronting a Mississippi blues band compromised of some Oxford University students featuring John Cage sitting in for a song or two and you might be somewhere close.

Infusing his relatively simple and straightforward songs with warm washes of noise, church organ, and feedback experiments. (On a side note, when I saw the group, one member wielded a microphone in front of three different amps stacked one on top of the other. Each amplifier was set differently so that when he wriggled the microphone in front of the speaker, a different tone would ring out. The effect was mind-blowing.) Opener "Raygun" suggests Modest Mouse's small-town lilt in its opening section but changes its mind about halfway and becomes an up-tempo rave-up. "Best Regards" and "Everytime" -- particularly Ashley's banshee wail around the second verse -- suggest a heavy 13th Floor Elevators influence (though my friend insists that keyboard line on "Everytime" is reminiscent of Lightning Bolt). "Necessary Separation" could be a genre unto itself: indie delta blues; "Me Queda Um Bejou" might pass for a Radiohead B-Side circa 1995 if the tape started to degenerate; while "Plain Vanilla" is a tone poem of pure mind-bending ecstasy.

The undertow behind the Gris Gris's music is far too strong to sustain haphazard listens -- the tones and shades are so rich you find yourself drowning in the current simply listening to the thing. The Gris Gris might be an exhausting debut, but it's well worth the effort.

1. Raygun
2. Everytime
3. Mary #38
4. Me Queda Um Bejou
5. Plain Vanilla
6. Necessary Separation
7. Best Regards
8. Medication #3
9. Winter Weather

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