Like seemingly everything else in which he involves himself, my friendship with Tony Reed has been remarkably straightforward. The guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, recording engineer and driving force behind Mos Generator, Stone Axe and HeavyPink (whose 7” is still available on The Maple Forum, hint hint) got an email from me when Stone Axe was putting out their second album requesting a copy for review, he said sure, and I reviewed it. Then we did an interview, I wound up writing the bios for the Ripple Music reissues of the first two Stone Axe records, then HeavyPink came along and I wound up helping to put that out, and there have been live reviews along the way and more posts than I can even think of at this point. In my head, I always go back to Reed calling me at one in the morning to talk about how excited he was to have just recorded Saint Vitus’ first album in 17 years, Lillie: F-65. The dude bleeds passion for rock and roll. It’s pretty much his thing, and in all my many dealings with him, he’s never been anything but upfront, honest and as bullshit-free as his music. Aside from his astounding level of output – two of the four albums reviewed this week – three if you count this deluxe remix of Mos Generator’s self-titled that I promise I’m going to start talking about sooner than later – involved his production (those being Mighty High and Trippy Wicked) – he’s got an incredible knowledge of rock and roll and has turned me on to a few killer bands and records. To put it mildly, he’s someone whose work I respect deeply, and someone I’m very, very glad to have emailed — and not just because a few weeks ago a full glorious 12” vinyl package showed up of Mos Generator’s Mos Generator 2002 debut full-length, given the complete “deluxe edition” treatment by Ripple Music, with whom Reed has cooperated closely over the last couple years, both on his own projects and the label’s.
To say they give the record its due is probably to understate it. That’s not to disrespect the album – it’s a more than solid enough collection, and the last Mos to be issued on vinyl – so it’s well worthy, it’s just the sheer volume of this release is breathtaking. With the Ripple LP, you get the original album, Mos Generator, on vinyl and CD. That’s standard. The CD comes as part of the package. Also included on the CD is the previously unreleased track “Hearts and Hands” and a live show recorded at the Manette Saloon in Bremerton, Washington, on Aug. 24, 2002, which is enough in itself to push the 75-minute mark. That’s probably more than a lot of deluxe reissues would give you, but the vinyl package also comes with a download card – it works, I’ve tested it – that includes an entire collection’s worth of songs. It’s got everything from the vinyl and the CD, plus another complete 2002 live show, this one taped at The Hole in Reed’s native Port Orchard, WA, earlier in the year, as well as four demo tracks, and to cap off, a massive 29-minute freeform rehearsal jam from the original Mos lineup of Reed, bassist Scooter Haslip and drummer Shawn Johnson that, among other things, includes a stopover from the riff to Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” toward the end. All told, it’s nearly two and a half hours of Mos Generator material covering the self-titled era, and a package that fans of the band, of Reed’s work in his other projects, or of heavy rock who might have missed them the first time around will revel in. Mos Generator released their last album – to date; they’re apparently working on a new one – in 2008, and if this reissue is to mark a resurgence, they’re certainly getting off on the right foot. I mean, seriously. The full download has 29 tracks. For some bands, that’s a discography.
The star of the show, though, is the album itself. According to the liner notes penned by Reed, the band was borrowing ideas from their Washington compatriots in Golden Pig Electric Blues Band (whose second album Reed recorded) for some of these songs, but if the seven cuts that make up the record-proper show anything, it’s that the strong sense of structure pervasive in Reed’s work now is nothing new. Immediately with “Lumbo Rock” as the opener, Mos Generator offers rock traditionalism based around memorable choruses that don’t hook for the sake of hooking, but still maintain a firm sense of presence. The band is loose on purpose, but the sound of the reissue is crisp, highlighting the warmth of Haslip’s bass and pop and sway in Johnson’s drumming along with Reed’s swaggering vocal and upbeat riffs. With a tale of moonshining and handclap-worthy snare hits for breaks between its verse lines, “Stone County Line” proves an early highlight, and “Acapulco Gold” aligns Mos Generator to stoner rock with blatant herbal homage not often paid a decade later. Reed croons over a softer guitar line, “Acapulco gold, you’re the only thing I wanna do/You take my soul and I don’t stand a chance of quitting you,” and it’s hard to imagine he didn’t have Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” in mind as a blueprint of the song’s red-eyed ethic. The song barely reaches three minutes, but in that time has enough character in its build to leave an impression by the end and make way for the even shorter and still strikingly efficient “F-1,” the newly-done mix of which highlights Haslip’s wah bass as its core and rounds out side A with a crisp execution that continues as the second half of the album takes hold in the form of “Sleeping You Way to the Middle.”
It’s hard for stoner rock to sound dated, since traditionalism is half the point, but in the whole 145 minutes of this reissue, “Sleeping Your Way to the Middle” is perhaps most markedly of its time period and geographic locale – Port Orchard being about an hour outside of Seattle. It’s not distinctly derived from grunge, but there’s something in its restless urgency that seems to come from that tradition. Its name stands it out, certainly, but the music follows suit, veering into a jam that’s brought back around by a faded-in guitar but that still extends the song to be the longest yet at 4:42 by nearly a full minute. Another high point, “Y’Juana” (pronounced like “ya wanna?” and cleverly used to ask if ya wanna burn some Tijuana) follows and further emphasizes the accessibility in the songwriting and classic rock bounce in Reed’s guitar. Were it not so definitively stoner in its lyric, “Y’Juana” would be the closest the album comes to drawing a direct line to Stone Axe, but of course it would be another half a decade before that band launched, and Mos Generator had numerous other releases and compilation appearances in that time and after (a complete discography is also included in the vinyl gatefold), and the two bands have personalities distinct from each other. Closing out the second side of the LP, the eight-minute “Pentagramagraph” further underscores that idea, willfully wandering into sub-psych noodling and laid back groove before kicking into its central structure. Reed has time to inject a bluesy solo and uses that time well, and the album closes with a relatively noisy, sample-topped section that would be a freakout were it not so clearly under control, ending the vinyl, but on the CD and download, setting up the forward push of the track “Hearts and Heads,” which Reed reveals in the liner was originally taken from a prior power pop outfit called Twelve Thirty Dreamtime, and sure enough, sounds like tonally beefed-up power pop.
Along with that, it’s also another showing of some Pacific Northwesterly roots and the start of a long exploration of Mos Generator’s early days. The vocals are moodier, and as the transition is made to the August 2002 live show, it’s clear the trio was already well at home on stage together at that point. The main difference between the two live sets – which include material both on the album and off in the case of the August show and all of the album minus “F-1” in case of the April show – is audio fidelity, the later gig having markedly better sound quality, but both being listenable and enjoyable overall for fans of the band or those bold enough to take the trip. Demo versions of “F-1,” “Lumbo Rock,” “Acapulco Gold” and an especially poppy song called “Teenage Orgy” find Mos getting their bearings as a unit, somewhat janglier tonally, but still firm in their structural ideology. None of the ideas they present are especially formative, so it would seem that by the time the band got around to making the demo, the parts had already been pretty well hammered out. “Lumbo Rock” in its demo form already has the melodic complexity of the finyl (as in “finyl vinyl” – here’s hoping anyone still reading appreciates a Rainbow reference), and that the bulk of the construction took place prior, perhaps out of jams like that which closes the release following the April show, a raw look at the songwriting brought to bear throughout Mos Generator’s Mos Generator in its nascent form. It is – like the start of this review indicated – making no bones about what it is. The track is dubbed “Xero2 (Rehearsal Jam),” but the title feels organizational and the parenthetical best describes it.
As someone perpetually fascinated both with quality songwriting and the processes that birth it – see just about every interview I’ve ever done for this site – I enjoy this kind of thing perhaps more than most, but either way, it’s a great showing of the chemistry that was already there in 2002 between Reed, Haslip and Johnson, and of course of the classic rock influence that has pervaded Reed’s work for at least the last decade and continues to typify it. Generally speaking, I’m still not necessarily a proponent of vinyl over CD, but here, even I have to admit that Mos Generator’s debut is perfectly suited to the LP format – notably suited to a two-sided release for having been initially issued as CD-only – and the fact that the CD is there anyway with the August 2002 live show for anyone who wants it, and that digital-types are accommodated as well via the sheer breadth of the included download, I’m unable to argue with a package so comprehensive. Casual fans or those new to the band might be hesitant to take on the full two hours and 25 minutes that the Ripple deluxe edition of Mos Generator has to offer, but for anyone who’s encountered these songs before, either on the original version of this album or on later Mos outings like 2007’s Songs for Future Gods or 2008’s Destroy! The Mos Generator Volume 2001-2008, the in-depth look is a boon to anyone wanting to have a deeper understanding of the material. As a fan of Reed’s who didn’t encounter his work until after the self-titled was already out of print, I consider myself lucky to have the chance to get to know it now as I have to write this review, and as he’s someone I’ve come to think of as a friend over the last couple years, it’s even more satisfying to have a better sense of where he’s coming from musically. Now I just need to get my hands on some Woodrot.
Tags: Mos Generator, Port Orchard, Ripple Music, Tony Reed, Washington