Herba Mate: Won’t Somebody Think of the Jellyfish?

Good luck trying to convince Google you’re actually looking for an Italian band called Herba Mate instead of information about the tea-alternative yerba mate on which the trio punningly based their name. It was like they thought I was lying. Fortunately, using the liner notes to Herba Mate’s cumbersomely-titled 2009 debut full-length, The Jellyfish is Dead and the Hurricane is Coming (Idea4UsOnly), I was able to get to the appropriate websites and find the information I needed. Stick that in your matrix, web research giant jerk.

The Jellyfish is Dead and the Hurricane is Coming boasts nine songs, just under 45 minutes of sweetly-toned sentimental mid-‘90s desert rock, claiming influence from the obvious Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age, but winding up with even more sonically in common with the first two records by Natas: Delmar and Ciudad de Brahman. The guitar tone of Andrea Barlotti, thick bottom end of bassist/vocalist Alessandro Trerè and driving snare hits of drummer Ermes Piancastelli bring about a similar kind of melodic chill while at once rocking with capable groove and self-aware mood and function. The Jellyfish is Dead and the Hurricane is Coming has a couple memorable tracks – swirly instrumental “Imargem” and the more straightforward, QOTSA-esque “Bugs,” and “Aragosta vs. Panther,” which drives the Delmar-style groove home despite Trerè’s burlier vocal – but the album is still  clearly meant to be experienced as a whole and is ultimately more satisfying that way. You could go track by track if you want, but it runs counter to the mood and overall feel Herba Mate are going for. “Relax,” the trio seems to be saying, and even on “1 to 65,” ostensibly the heaviest song present, I don’t was to disagree with the purported ethic.

I often find myself unbothered by the lack of originality in bands like Herba Mate, because although desert rock is a well-known subgenre with established characteristics, the performance is more at the heart of what’s important, and although elements are familiar, individuals are bound to bring something unique to the sound one way or another. That happens on The Jellyfish is Dead and the Hurricane is Coming. The album’s central atmosphere of unsettled warmth comes across in the ambient intro “Machumba” and stays potent in the Homme-ian start-stop riffing of “***,” where really it’s more about Barlotti’s tone than trying to reinvent the wheel. Basically what I’m saying is I could bitch, but I’d rather groove, and I think that’s because what Herba Mate are doing, they’re doing really well and from a genuine place. Desert rock: accomplished.

That underlying sense of danger – exemplified on the gatefold digipak cover depicting a line-drawn figure falling against a backdrop almost equal parts sand and sky; not to mention the title – is key to understanding The Jellyfish is Dead and the Hurricane is Coming. As much as it’s about the grooving turns in a song like “Nicotine,” also instrumental, the catchy chorus line of “**” (that’s not a typo; one song is two stars and another is three) or the three-plus minutes of atmospheric noise/drone followed by organic acoustic guitar on closer “Sputnik,” it’s also about the interplay between Barlotti, Trerè and Piancastelli, the balance between the players and their knowing how much of each of them a given track requires. Smoothly constructed and intricately arranged, The Jellyfish is Dead and the Hurricane is Coming hits a sand-hued note of natural-sounding prettiness and keeps its edge at the same time. In an international underground in which desert riffage seems to have become a mainstay, Herba Mate stand not entirely separate, but distinguished among the masses.

Herba Mate on MySpace


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4 Responses to “Herba Mate: Won’t Somebody Think of the Jellyfish?”

  1. dogmaofdespair says:

    Coincidentally enough, yerba mate is actually pretty good after you get used to it, and the perfect beverage to chill with in the early morning while listening to bands like this.

  2. Adam says:

    This looks interesting… How can one hear this album?

  3. Alessandro says:

    hi all,

    I’m HM’s bass+voice: I first apologize for my Italian-ish.
    second, let me tell you that it’s a huge pleasure for us being reviewed in “The Obelisk” and it’s an even bigger pleasure to get such a review by a very nice overseas website: it’s a target we’ve never reached before.
    for Adam: you can listen to us on myspace: http://www.myspace.com/herbamate.
    And you can find our fan page also on Facebook.
    One general question: we would like to find also a way to start promoting and sell our record in US: any suggestion?
    thanks guys for the support, we’ll keep in touch soon!

    • Chris says:

      Hi Alessandro, how can I buy this album on CD? After listening to the Fatso Jetson/Herba Mate split, I must have it!

      Steering me in the right direction would be much appreciated.


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