If you’re wondering what might motivate three of thinky-thinky metal’s most luminous outfits – Steve Von Till’s Harvestman, Minsk and U.S. Christmas – to come together and put out a three-way split of 11 Hawkwind covers, the answer seems blindingly obvious: They all really like Hawkwind. Duh.
And with good reason, since that British band, who last year celebrated their 40th anniversary, are more or less the foundation on which multiple generations of space rock have been built and have had an unprecedented, unequaled influence on sonic psychedelia. Hell, I can’t even get through a space rock review without mentioning Hawkwind at least once. Why would Harvestman, Minsk and U.S. Christmas want to tribute to Hawkwind? Maybe the more appropriate question is “What took so long?”
What makes Neurot’s Hawkwind Triad unique, at least in a “Hey, we did something different” kind of way, is that the 11 tracks – divided four, four and three to U.S. Christmas, Harvestman and Minsk, respectively – aren’t divided by band. The Hawkwind Triad opens with U.S. Christmas, then follows with Harvestman, then Minsk, and so on, with no band ever having two tracks in a row (and Minsk bowing out after track seven) until the end of the album. The idea is that it should flow like a record instead of a three-way split, and it works in some spots better than others. But since they’re presenting the tracks in such a way as to mesh the three groups, I thought it might be fun to break them back up for a band-by-band review (the “prick” impulse strikes again). Observe:
U.S. Christmas: The North Carolina semi-experimental six-piece has a growing cult of followers around them who seem to swear by their groundbreaking aesthetic and approach. Acknowledging that a set of Hawkwind covers is no place to pass final judgment, to me they just sound like Monster Magnet circa Spine of God. Not necessarily a bad thing, and of course this has literally nothing to do with the band, but a style done by someone else 18 years ago doesn’t exactly make the avant garde. Again, I know the Hawkwind Triad isn’t going to be the be-all-end-all representation of their sound, but at this point it’s all I’ve got. They cover “Master of the Universe” to open the album, “Psychedelic Warlords,” “Orgone Accumulator” and “You Shouldn’t Do That.” All well done, all a little hip but not offensively so. Fair enough.
Minsk: They only do three tracks, but among the Triad, they’re probably the band who goes the furthest out in terms of not adhering to their already-established sound. Sure, listening to “7×7,” you know it’s Minsk, but the Chicago outfit has become surprisingly recognizable over the course of their eight years and three LPs, and at least as compares to the oppressive darkness that was at the hilt of 2009’s With Echoes in the Movement of Stone (Relapse), they do stray from their comfort zone, most especially on “Children of the Sun,” the four and a half minutes of which represent a slow build of effects, clean vocals, flute, bongos, and eventually electric guitars, but for most of its time is acoustic-based. Oddly enough, “Children of the Sun” turns out to be the highlight of Hawkwind Triad. Set next to the 12-minute noise and effects parade that is “Assault and Battery/The Golden Void” (so they do kind of also do four songs), you’d think they were two different bands if not for the vocals.
Harvestman: Steve Von Till’s solo project tended toward a fuller, more psychedelic sound on his last Harvestman album, In a Dark Tongue, anyway, so it’s not really a shock to hear the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist working within that frame, but what is surprising is to hear him sing songs so straightforward. Now, Hawkwind isn’t a band to whom “straightforward” is generally applied, but if you consider Harvestman’s prior output and the work of Neurosis, a song like “D Rider,” even with its dial-twist swirls, hard panning and psychedelic edges, is highly structured. It’s not like we’ve never heard Von Till sing a chorus before (his three Steve Von Till solo albums come to mind), but on Hawkwind Triad, with someone else’s melodies laid out for his voice, he has to approach the task differently. Neurosis’ Jason Roeder guests on drums for “D Rider” and “Magnu,” but him aside, Von Till handles all the instrumentation himself and manages to fill out the smoky and cosmically desolate “The Watcher” and “Down through the Night” anyhow, the synth washes in the latter being maybe high in the mix but appropriate nonetheless. Anyone with experience listening to his work knows he doesn’t put out crap, and this is no exception.
The music of Hawkwind, already heady and self-indulgent, can be a lot to take in, and the jumbled covers of Hawkwind Triad follow suit, but even if it takes multiple sessions to get through it, the quality material on this split release is worth putting in the time. Since the goal of the release seems to have been to pay tribute to Hawkwind and nothing else (there hasn’t been much hype around it and I’ve yet to hear anyone involved with the project claim it helps make the grass grow), there’s no denying it accomplishes that and simultaneously helps the listener discover Hawkwind’s influence on these three acts, who in turn will one day each also be paid homage by three acts, who in turn will one day each also be paid homage by three acts, and so on exponentially until the universe stops expanding and begins to collapse on itself…
Sorry. Lots of Hawkwind. You know how it is.
Tags: Chicago, Harvestman, Idaho, Minsk, Neurot, North Carolina, Relapse, Steve Von Till, U.S. Christmas