Imaad Wasif With Two Part Beast Strange Hexes

[Self-released; 2008]

Rating: 2/5

Styles: guitar-pop, post-grunge, stoner-rock
Others: too many, see below

Imaad Wasif is a would-be rock hero. When he’s playing the balladeer, he’s not far from The Screaming Trees’ aesthetic – vaguely neo-psychedelic guitar-pop. Other times, he’ll throw down a heavy metal riff and break out the soloing chops (whatever those are). Eager to demonstrate his versatility, Wasif sticks a sudden, heavy metal rave-up into the middle of the lead song; it’s an incongruous turn that reveals his interest in contrasting musical lexicography. A lot of music exploits the tension between seemingly irreconcilable principles – on this song, it’s the tension between the morose indie-popster and the stoner-rock dirge king, and what the choice winds up revealing is that there isn’t that much difference between the two.

“What, so you’re saying an Isaac Brock isn’t that different from a Dax Riggs?”

Not really.

Of course, in retrospect it makes easy sense. When Riggs played in Austin last year, the mostly long-hair-and-tour-tees crowd evinced a suspicious number of muttonchops as well. To a certain subset of aging indie dudes, stoner-rock seems like vaguely acceptable metal, and there are reasons why. As metal miserablism goes, its misery is defeatist (cf. doom metal) instead of hysterical (cf. black metal), which mirrored the attitude of many of 2002’s neo-psychedelic icons. Furthermore, unlike a lot of metal, stoner-rock has a celebratory side as well; it celebrates some sublime formless realm of heat and haze, which can be accessed via drugs and downtuned guitars – not far from the appeal of Sigur Rós at the height of their popularity, though obviously when they lit up, it took them to Victorialand, not Death Valley.

“So then,” you say, “Strange Hexes is probably ideal music for people who like Modest Mouse but reflexively make devil-horns anyway?”

Not really. Despite the number of obvious “Hey look, it’s Sleep” moments, Strange Hexes walks past the altar of Black Sabbath and toward a statuette of Neil Young – and that means it’s not so much stoner-rock as stoner-rock-via-grunge. The basic banality (to today’s ears) of anything grunge-related has stopped a lot of stoner-rock short of classic status – Solace’s excellent Further, for example, lost much of its freshness by accidentally resembling Soundgarden. On Strange Hexes, we get passages that sound like lesser work by Alice In Chains, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Live.

So, what should have been an interesting juxtaposition instead results in a sell-by date stamped over the whole thing. Strange Hexes is too generic to glorify hard rock before a cult of indie-popsters from elsewhere. It’s too slump-shouldered and moody to be a call-to-arms for rockers. Its greatest appeal is probably to fans of post-grunge – and that’s a discovery with unnerving implications for some of my own favorite music.

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