Mushroom – Naked, Stoned, & Stabbed (4 Zero Records) Keith Boyd 4.19.10
One of the amazingly beneficial outcomes of the steady dismantling of the record industry is how democratized the music scene has become. The fact that there are a multitude of truly independent labels out there, and that there are systems of distribution, is a boon for everyone. Listeners get a chance to hear a much broader range of sound. If you find, for instance, that your musical button is pushed by the sounds of field-recorded crickets mixed in with whirling beats and guitars you can probably get it out there somewhere. If you want vinyl or CDs or MP3’s, most labels can accommodate your tastes in format. For artists the benefit is evident. If you make home-crafted Burmese Hip-Hop with lyrics exclusively about the Buddha Dharma, well, the odds are likely you’ll be able to find a set of ears out there that are eager to listen. Okay, so we’ve got this chummy and lovely vibe going. Home recording equipment is relatively cheap. Production costs are only what you choose to make them and distribution is via the Web and Post. Everything’s great right? Well, yes and no. As with any suddenly open forum, rushing in along side the unknown geniuses are the unknown hacks. For every great-unearthed jewel of discovery you make, you’ll have had to swamp through a lot of dreck. Not all hope is lost though. Rushing in to help you isolate the treasure from the trash are the on-line networks, forums and blogs (like this one!!). So, in many senses this time is the right time for music making and listening. Most of the history of recorded music is available on-line in some quasi-legal form, there are places like MYSPACE and FACEBOOK to connect with and hear musicians, and even a casual web search can connect you with music that might just sound like something you’ve been dreaming of. Into this ocean of goodness (and badness) comes an album by a venerable San Francisco band that has plied the byways of music for over a decade and has fully taken advantage of the open-ended, cheap tool and easy access of the contemporary music scene. I’m speaking of Mushroom and their wonderful new album, “Naked, Stoned, & Stabbed”.
Mushroom is an appropriate name for this (somewhat) super-group/full-time side project. Like a mushroom they are a loosely organized but interconnected group of individuals. The one constant is drummer Pat Thomas, whose production skills and reissue savvy have made him an indispensable part of underground music. The group has an incredible and large discography. Spanning over 12 albums, it includes everything from Avant-Jazz to down-tempo Funk to motorik, Krautrock-inspired mashups. They have worked with a variety of vocalists and, along the way, dug to the depths and essence of many a genre. With this prolific release activity they have also developed into a mighty live band known for extending and coloring in the shells of songs with wild, multi-colored improvisation. Filling out the line up this time are guitarist/knob twiddler Josh Pollock (a member of Citay, and collaborator with Gong, Acid Mothers Temple, Ruins, John Cale, and Damo Suzuki), vintage keyboard player Matt Cunitz (Brightblack Morning Light, Hiss Golden Messenger), multi-instrumentalist Erik Pearson (Daevid Allen, Irene Sazer, Crooked Jades, Billy Talbot/Crazy Horse), bassist Ned Doherty and David Brandt (whose CV includes a European tour with the Kologbo Afrobeat Academy [Oghene Kologbo being the guitarist in Fela Kuti's legendary Africa 70 band]). This wealth of talent and experience is brought to bear on tracks that sparkle with the creative impulse.
Perhaps not since the early 60’s has the music industry been more about single songs. While a 2-3 minute piece of perfection is a wonder to behold, it is rarer that an entire album is a cohesive and satisfying listen. Thankfully that satisfaction is to be found here. From the first strums of “Infatuation” to the closing, sing-a-long take on Kevin Ayers’ “Singing A Song In The Morning”, this album enchants and enlightens. Amongst the treasures are Nuevo takes on Jazzy/Folk acoustic guitar in the vein of early Tim Buckley and Nick Drake. The wonders don’t stop there though. Taking its title from Pete Townsend’s lyrics to “Bargain”, this album is a stroll through the various and deep roots of 60’s music. At times it is scans like a compilation of John Peel’s old label Dandelion Records. There is that same scrappy drive to explore and then deliver quality. The broad-base sonic footprint of the project was conceived as a “cross-continental Cinema Verite travelogue of time and space”. Acoustic, ambient and blending Eastern and Western sensibilities, the music floats on an ether-soaked cloud of sitar, violin, pump organ, celesta, vibraharp, dulcimer and flutophone. Beneath this hypnotic cloud are African, Latin and Indian percussion and rhythms that move the pieces and the sound-story along. While the truth is that every bit of music on this disc is wonderful, I suppose a few extraordinary highlights would include; “Celebration At Big Sur (The Sound Of The Gulls Outside Of Room 124)”, “Infatuation” and the afore mentioned, re-imagined Kevin Ayers, “Sing A Song In The Morning”. The wealth and riches embedded in these grooves deserve your full attention. “Naked, Stoned and Stabbed” is a gift to the senses. It evokes the British countryside, The Big Sur coast, African nightclub pulses and the great late 60’s Jazz/Folk scene. Remarkably it does all this while remaining contemporary and vibrant to the modern ear. Simply put this is best thing I’ve heard so far in 2010.