Austin jammers Tia Carrera were probably a little ahead of their time when they got going and started playing happy hours and pressing CDRs in the middle of the last decade, but certainly by the time they got around to releasing Cosmic Priestess (review here) in 2011, an improv-based heavy psych jam unit wasn’t unheard of. Yet their name is rarely in the conversation when it comes to this kind of psychedelia. That might be in part because they don’t really tour, but I think it has something to do with how much of a standout they are even in their hometown, which boasts plenty of heavy rock and plenty of jamming, but very little crossover. Veterans of course of SXSW, the trio has also jammed out at Roadburn and everything they recorded for Cosmic Priestess — which was their second offering through Small Stone after 2009’s The Quintessential (review here) — was improvised and recorded live to 1″ tape in 2010 with the lineup of guitarist Jason Morales, bassist Jamey Simms and drummer Erik Conn.
The sum total of the four tracks on the CD version of the album stood at 64 minutes, and to this day, the CD version of Cosmic Priestess is a considerable undertaking. Even if you’re just going to put it on to trip out to the echo and wah and lose yourself in whichever of the four extended jams, it’s a commitment in time and attention. They could’ve probably released the 33-minute “Saturn Missile Battery,” which was mixed by the band with Mark Deutrom (ex-the Melvins), on its own as a full-length and no one would’ve blinked, but the ambition in Tia Carrera‘s improvisational project finds its mirror in the amount of output they have to show for it, which of course is more than a single 12″ LP can hold.
Small Stone has pressed Cosmic Priestess to a 12″ platter, however — 250 copies on black wax and 250 in a yellow record with black and red swirl, both on 180 gram vinyl in a gatefold package that highlights the oh-hell-yessery of Alexander von Wieding‘s turn-it-sideways cover art — and the solution for making it fit has been to edit the songs. CD closer “A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing” is out entirely, while opener “Slave Cylinder” remains untouched at 7:32. The real difference comes in middle pieces “Sand, Stone and Pearl,” which is 15:10 on disc and 11:40 on vinyl, and “Saturn Missile Battery,” taken from 33:40 to 20:48. Both still give plenty of time for Tia Carrera to make their point, of course, but it’s a change in how the album itself is presented, with “Saturn Missile Battery” occupying all of side B while side A has two relatively neat jams that run roughly the same amount of time. It changes the structure of the album, and I don’t think it’s for the worse.
It’s a hard thing to say you’re in favor of editing a band’s output, and I’m not going to say I am, only that Cosmic Priestess sounds really fucking good on vinyl, and if trimming off some of the material was how that happened, then it’s a fair enough trade from a listening standpoint. I put headphones on and was immediately sucked into the unfolding course of “Slave Cylinder,” and Conn‘s drumming on “Saturn Missile Battery” came across as all the more righteous, the subtle hiss of my record player adding complement to the band’s analog worship and classic heavy sensibilities. They’re still jamming the living hell out of the tracks, and while the LP edition of the album is shorter, the trade there is it’s also more accessible. By the time side B comes to its finish, I want Tia Carrera to keep going, and that’s just how it should be.
To the best of my knowledge, the three-piece hasn’t done anything in the studio since Cosmic Priestess, and members have other projects going, but they’ll still play shows in and around Austin every now and again. In light of the emergence of a more jam-minded heavy psychedelia over the last couple years, both in the US and in Europe, it would be interesting to see how a new Tia Carrera album fared upon release. Whether or not that’ll happen, I don’t know, but Cosmic Priestess has easily proved worth a vinyl revisit.