A precursor release to introduce Blaak Heat Shujaa to the Tee Pee Records roster before the trio make their first full-length impression on the label in 2013, The Storm Generation reunites the uprooted psychedelic outfit with producer Scott Reeder. Reeder helmed Blaak Heat Shujaa’s 2010 self-titled debut (review here) and makes his presence felt likewise throughout The Storm Generation’s six tracks/32 minutes in the tones and drum sounds captured with a live feel from guitarist/vocalist Thomas Bellier, bassist Antoine Morel-Vulliez and drummer Mike Amster, whose sense of adventure extends not only to the open jams present here in instrumental cuts like “Incident at Stinson Beach” – on which they unleash their inner Yawning Man – and the later ‘The Storm/We are the Fucking Storm,” but also to the mere fact that in the last two years, Blaak Heat Shujaa have moved from Paris to New York (from whence Bellier unveiled his Ehécatl side-project; review here) and on to Los Angeles, where they now reside. Morel-Vulliez’s bass is once again of particular note throughout the material on The Storm Generation, and a spoken word guest appearance from tourmate/poet Ron Whitehead on “The Manifesto” helps expand the lysergic palate. Whitehead goes on a fireside mini-rant about quantum physics and gonzo journalism – as one will – and though I might disagree about the correlation between the two, he nonetheless feeds into Blaak Heat Shujaa’s overarching desert-as-spiritual-center sensibility. Two extended tracks, side A opener “The Revenge of the Feathered Pheasant” (11:04) and side B counterpart “Helios” (8:50) provide a base from which each half of the EP expands, and particularly with “The Revenge of the Feathered Pheasant,” the three-piece begin to show a growth in scope that will hopefully continue to typify their work on the subsequent sophomore long-player, fading in backwards to a point before turning quickly and darting off on a quick bass and drum-led progression that seems to meet at the intersection where desert rock once emerged from surf.
Though obviously not on the instrumental tracks, Bellier’s vocals feature throughout The Storm Generation and show progression in their post-Al Cisneros approach. Likewise, his guitar has no trouble keeping up with Morel-Vulliez’s bass runs, and he answers himself in layers of drawn out echoes and precise lead notes. Tying “The Revenge of the Feathered Pheasant” together is Amster’s creative drumming. As Bellier’s verses become incantations and Morel-Vulliez races alongside, it’s Amster marking the path they’re taking, and when the pace cuts after the three-minute mark to a slower plod, it’s Amster’s cymbals acting as the foundation from which Bellier’s solo soars. Performance-wise, there’s little more to ask of the young outfit than they deliver on the EP’s opener – so it’s a good place to start, I guess – but the crux of the track really shows itself in the bass-led stillness of the midsection, where, Om-style, they pull into a minimalist movement of quiet contemplation, somehow still maintaining the tension of the song’s earlier moments in sudden cymbal mutes and guitar stops, but nonetheless setting a build in motion that they skillfully bring to bear in the ensuing fuzz and crashes that hit past the 7:40 mark. As intense as they can be at times, they’re patient in this build and before nine minutes in, break to let Morel-Vulliez lead the way into the final movement, which once more plays deft tempo changes off each other and finds Bellier tapping into minor-key Eastern scales to add to the mystical vibe. With about 45 seconds left, they return to the opening progression and bring “The Revenge of the Feathered Pheasant” full-circle. I thought they might throw a last verse in there – very subtly did the opener become instrumental for its last eight minutes – but no dice. “The Revenge of the Feathered Pheasant” gives way to the guitar intro of “Incident at Stinson Beach,” compressed and complemented by a simple drum line that sounds like some ancient 45 is spinning for the first half-minute. After that, wah swirl takes hold and they move into strongly percussive high desert bounce – sort of a verse to the wah’s soon-returning chorus. They jam a bit while Bellier takes a solo and then provide quick culmination before Amster ends on drums and completes The Storm Generation’s gamut from its most grandiose track to arguably its least.
More consistent in terms of its pacing and centered around a memorable vocal hook and near-religious invocations of its title line, “Helios” works out in many ways to leave the most lasting imprint on the listener. Bellier’s vocals enact a build of their own, engaging a drama that comes out in a kind of increasingly frantic calling on the sun to burn him alive, give life, etc. while the instruments play out arid spaces behind. He is forward in the mix, but not egregiously so, and he’s beginning to prove he can handle being so as a frontman in a studio setting. Once again, Morel-Vulliez meets Bellier head on tonally and provides much needed density to the sound, but being more focused structurally and reliant on verses, Amster has less of a task in anchoring the proceedings. Still, he gives an admirable performance by the time the fire starts to crackle for “The Manifesto,” on which Whitehead, in Socratic dialogue (presumably with Bellier but perhaps someone else), explains the myth of objectivity and deftly ties it into “gonzo” and the idea that the observer affects the observed. The subject/object divide notwithstanding, atmospherically it makes for an engaging set piece as Blaak Heat Shujaa once more get ready to unleash Gary Arce-style guitar tonality on “The Storm/We are the Fucking Storm,” which cycles through its instrumental lyricism smoothly despite seeming to let every line hang. This sort of soft-edged churn is well suited to the echoes in Bellier’s guitar and the long-lasting crash in Amster’s cymbals, and as it only lasts 2:45, I don’t find myself needing more from it than the single musical idea it presents. What it might have taken inspirationally from the Whitehead/Olafur Gunnarsson poem “The Storm Generation Manifesto” from which it harnesses its title, I don’t know – lines from that poem are also quoted in the liner; unfortunately not all of Whitehead’s “storm generation” bought into the beat line – but there’s something sad and resonant in its repetitions and that seems more significant.
They round out The Storm Generation with a reworking of Silvio Rodriguez’s “Fusil Contra Fusil,” and though Bellier strains to hit some of the notes vocally, that only winds up adding to the emotional breadth of the track, which serves well to end on another complex note of open-air psychedelia. If it was a full-length, I might say it doesn’t work as a closer, that “Helios” might have been better position there to round out a complete-album flow, but for an EP, it works fine and follows the structure of both vinyl sides opening with a long track followed by other, less expansive material. I don’t know if these were leftovers from the recording process with Reeder for the album or put to tape with a separate release already in mind, but they make for a cohesive showing of promise from the still-young heavy psych outfit, who seem to be in the beginning stages of carving out their own sound from within the established tropes of the genre. Their album is one to look forward to in 2013, and as advance notice, The Storm Generation warns of a band with a firm grip on who they are as musicians looking to leave a mark on the style that’s inspired them. They may be imports to the California desert, but if their task is to contribute to the overall sphere of that area’s scene/aesthetic, it’s a challenge they seem ready to take on.
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