London WC2 Astoria
It's hard not to suppose that the continued dormancy of Beat Happening lends Calvin Johnson's other groups more allure than they intrinsically merit....
IT’S HARD NOT TO SUPPOSE that the continued dormancy of Beat Happening lends Calvin Johnson’s other groups more allure than they intrinsically merit. Though Olympia, Washington’s legendary exponent of basso profundity has proved himself an indisputably tasteful lightning rod for Dub Narcotic Sound System and their funked-up roots revels, as well as the less studied pop constructs of The Halo Benders, it’s hard to see legions of boy-grrrl outsiders ardently espousing these latest strains of Calvinism as designs for life.
That said, there’s nothing wrong and more than just a little bit right with the second full-length DNSS album. Like virtually every recording the good doctor makes at Dub Narcotic studios, it sounds fantastic: R&B scraped back to the bone, calloused fingers lamping merry hell out of a guitar, bass, drums and organ set-up that feels permanently on the point of collapse. Tense. Elemental. And – oh yes – very, very stoned. ‘Out Of Your Mind’ not only makes good on the premise that people who don’t smoke pot have no business making music, it suggests there’s little point listening to it unless one has ingested a capacious bowl too.
Thus buoyed, it’s possible to evince near limitless wisdom in everything from Calvin’s breathing patterns as he tootles his melodica pleasantly on ‘Dub Narcotic’s Delight’ to the sub-Beasties-do-Meters funky jams which account for roughly a third of the album. [I]Sans [/I]crumbly brown friend? Still fun for all concerned, just hardly compelling.
But there’s no need to pillage one’s herbaceous borders to get the gist of the title track’s summertime seduction, as Calvin trades sauce portions with Miranda July, nor to pump a generationally genocidal fist to ‘Teenage Time Bomb’, effectively The Cramps doing Iggy’s ‘TV Eye’ with an irate bloodhound on vocals. ‘Shock Mount’, too, is frenzied and fertile. It’s at such moments that Johnson truly excels, fuelled by his group’s liquid momentum and a still unquenched reservoir of frustration. At others, though, ‘Sawed Off”s mantric refrain, [I]”We’re wasted”[/I] can’t help but seem as much a comment on Calvin’s application levels as a celebration of this Narcotic state of mind.