Album Review: Mos Generator, Time//Wounds

Mos Generator Time Wounds

Time//Wounds is the fifth album since Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator returned from the ether of hiatus with 2012’s Nomads (review here). The second era of the band is now longer than the first, as and as six tracks of Time//Wounds — issued through Music Abuse and Pale Wizard Records following a trilogy on Listenable Records in 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), 2016’s Abyssinia (review here) and 2018’s Shadowlands (review here) — time matters.

Accompanying this return to activity in terms of full studio LPs has been a glutton’s delight of short releases, splits, self-bootlegs, unearthed demos, one offs, a solo album from founding guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist/producer Tony Reed, as well as several other Reed-inclusive side-projects, including Big Scenic NowhereConstance TombHot Spring Water, in-depth work with Australia’s Seedy Jeezus as producer and player, and more besides. As stretches of time go, it’s been a good one to be a Mos Generator fan.

Since Electric Mountain Majesty and particularly across recent EPs like 2019’s Spontaneous Combustions (review here), 2016’s The Firmament, and even the demos that showed up on their 2020 split with Di’Aul (review here), the band have moved in multifaceted fashion toward a more progressive approach from their foundation in more straightforward classic heavy rock. True, they’ve never lacked ambition, and they’ve done strongly thematic work before such as the concept album The Late Great Planet Earth in 2005, but particularly as Reed has grown more comfortable with various synth instrumentation and worked to flesh out his own vocal arrangements, the direction the band — completed by Sean Booth on bass and Jono Garrett, whose contributions aren’t to be minimized in how these recordings sound; I don’t know their dynamic in the studio, but it’s safe to say nothing is ending up on a Mos Generator record that Reed didn’t approve even if for diplomacy — but 20 years on from their self-titled debut (reissue review here), Time//Wounds seems to complete a turn toward a vision of performance-rooted progressive heavy rock that is both classic in substance and very much Mos Generator‘s and Reed‘s own.

Influenced by a deeper knowledge of original-era heavy and prog than one could ever aspire to amass, as well as his own roots as a player in more punkish fare — looking at you, “Getting Good at Revenge,” which reminds of bit of Mos Generator doing Fu Manchu at their own most punk — and indeed the work Reed has done as a songwriter to bring the band to this point, the 43 minutes of Time//Wounds carry something of an exploratory feel for the finished versions being created using what were the demo tracks for the songs.

This process has been a more than a year long front to back, and accompanying the rawer underpinnings is, instrumentally and vocally, the most complex material Mos Generator have released. To wit, the Opethian bridge(s) of partially-acoustic second cut “(Don’t) Wait Until Tomorrow” or the 14-minute finale “Until We Meet Again (Parts I-IV),” which indeed plays out structurally in movements flowing one into the next. That these moves take place alongside the prog-funky keyboard in “Burn Away the Years,” which is almost garage rock in its strum, is emblematic of the stylistic sprawl brought to bear under the heading of Time//WoundsKing CrimsonMotorpsychoMC5Beatles and who else? It doesn’t even matter since it all comes out as Mos Generator anyhow.

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That, as it happens, is a major unifying factor throughout the songs. Another is an abiding sense of melancholy — certainly present in the cover photo by singer-songwriter Conny Ochs as well — that’s present from the less-than-thrilled-sounding opening verse of “Aja-Minor” (premiered here), “…Don’t lose your time/You ain’t got none…,” onward. Immediately, the engagement with time is at the forefront, and by the time the hook comes around with layers of Reed almost taunting himself, “Time wounds/What you got what you got in your head/N-n-nothing,” the inevitable connection between temporality and mortality is writ large without being said at all. If this is Mos Generator confronting death, they do so in almost manic but inherently still plotted fashion.

Time is almost everywhere throughout — “(Don’t) Wait Until Tomorrow,” “Burn Away the Years,” the also-linear-structured just-under-eight-minute penultimate track “Only Yesterday,” which likely starts the side B stretch-out that continues in “Until We Meet Again (Parts I-IV)” and feels born of a similar process. Shadowlands was likewise not without its darker streak, and I suppose one might say the same of the preceding records in this era of the band too, to some degree or other, but the contrast born with Time//Wounds is striking. Some of these melodies, tones and grooves are bright and near-soaring, and they carry with them an existential weight that goes even beyond the more intense shove of “Getting Good at Revenge.”

It’s not necessarily a pall this casts over Time//Wounds, but it’s a shadow in the tapestry. And as Mos Generator adventure into new ideas in terms of their sound as a unit and in Reed‘s songwriting, the seemingly lighthearted strum of “Burn Away the Years” — “Never give in and never look back at the smoke” — and the churning layers of synthesizer and guitar that ensue want nothing for clarity of purpose. It is Mos Generator growing older, weirder, but maintaining the surefootedness of craft that has always been a an essential component of the band’s work. Time wounds and time heals in “Aja-Minor,” and the lyrics of “Burn Away the Years” seem reluctantly reconciled to being “another birthday song,” but even if the album holds a scope that can feel disjointed at first glance, there’s always a course charted beneath the surface, and on the most fundamental level, the songs are too thoughtful and intricately made to be anything other than progressive rock.

I expect some listeners won’t know what to make of it — even longtime followers might be surprised — but those who find themselves able to invest properly in the mission and the message here, a record that seems to describe the urgency of its own making even before the first track is done while also stretching out in ways the band never has before, will find it nothing but a triumph. That won’t be everybody, but it will definitely be some, and with what ReedBooth and Garrett conjure in these tracks, I feel like Mos Generator have never been less predictable for what might come next. Especially given their history, let alone the fleeting nature of all things, that in itself seems worthy of appreciating. This is the output of a master of the form refusing to not challenge himself. In other words, the way art moves forward.

Mos Generator, “Aja-Minor”

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