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Rather than pick up where they left off, Grails take the sky-high riff-based heaviness of their earlier albums and distill it into a nuanced, widescreen opus. The perennial influences of mid-20th century Western film scores, obscure library music, and psychedelic krautrock are indelibly imprinted, but Chalice Hymnalexudes an eerie patience in unfurling the many layers of its subtle details. Produced by the band over the past five years, Chalice Hymnal bears some of the European psych and experimental hip-hop production techniques of founding members Alex Hall and Emil Amos’ other group, Lilacs & Champagne. Amos’ meditative metal band, Om, and longtime singer-songwriter project, Holy Sons, also naturally find their way into the Chalice cauldron. Rounding out their line-up, cofounder Zak Riles (also of experimental kraut-psych trio, Watter) layers synths and programming into an electronic-prog hybrid that pushes Grailsfurther into the deep end, displaying a profound resonance, both musically and emotionally. No one else sounds like Grails, and on Chalice Hymnal they sound more like themselves than ever before.
JASON LOEWENSTEIN SOLO ELECTRIC.
Indie rock pioneer Jason Loewenstein of the legendary and highly influential band Sebadoh, which he founded with Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow and Eric Gaffney, returns with Spooky Action, the title of which could just as easily point to the current political madness as it could to the thrill and anxiety of self-discovery.
After a six-year stint as a member of the Fiery Furnaces and having spent the last several years playing with, recording and/or touring with everyone from Richard Buckner and David Kilgour to his own, still-active band Sebadoh, it’s obvious that Loewenstein is eager to unleash the songs he’s been stockpiling for this new release, his first solo album since the critically acclaimed At Sixes and Sevens (Sub Pop).
Spooky Action starts with a hilariously unexpected short clip (you’ll just have to hear it) before Loewenstein charges out of the gate with the frenetic and upbeat “The One.” A piercing, furious guitar line cuts through heavily distorted bass and galloping drums while Loewenstein screams, “Step out on the wing, give up everything,” which is exactly what he does throughout the entirety of this fearless album.
“Navigate” could be a faster, crisper follow-up to “Not Too Amused” from Sebadoh’s classic Bakesale, with biting lyrics like, “Not gonna hang with vampires” and “Excuse me, do I know you?” The heavy riffage and unbridled vocals on “Dead” bring to mind Queens of the Stone Age, while the deeply melodic and infectious “Superstitious” is a gripping heart-wrencher: “You’re going away and I don’t know why,” Loewenstein sings from the deepest, saddest part of himself. And the album’s final track, “Light the Room,” is a dirgy love song that’s simultaneously filled with optimism and dread, and somehow sounds like a Neil Young take on the Melvins.
The 12 songs on Spooky Action explore everything from manic hopefulness and the pain of loss, to the fear and adventure of the great unknown. Loewenstein navigates these complex territories with impressive skill and even, at times, courageous wit.
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