I’ll admit it: I’m an addict. It’s got to the point now with new Earthless releases that I literally get giddy like a toddler in a sandpit every time a new one sails by atop of my newsfeed. New splits, new albums, new live stuff, new cover versions, hell, I’d probably get something out of new Youtube vids of them scratching their balls and eating tortilla chips on a beer-stained couch. So when a new split vinyl with the Justin “Figgy” Figueroa-helmed Harsh Toke was announced with both acts contributing a ram-jam 15 minutes plus of purist psychegasm to keep each of those lovely, round waxy sides busy, I was about ready to pop.
Earthless kick us off on the A-side with a beast entitled Acid Crusher; an initially sleepy little ditty than I fully expected to build from some subtle Hammond oodlings and a sensual bass groove into the raging torrent of Krauty Hendrix-worship that pretty much everything Earthless has ever put out does to perfection. Except… That evolution mysteriously never happens. Acid Crusher is an exercise in headache-summoning, tortoise-paced jamming; opening its fist slowly before re-clenching slightly every 30 seconds around a 9-note sloth of a riff that could be the background to some ‘70s Blaxsploitation flick. It’s hard to know who is playing what or how Isaiah Mitchell is switching between a combination of organ motifs and widdly guitar flicks, but there’s basically no riffs and the entire vibe and structure of the song for me never really amounts to very much, despite his six-string tone sounding as cosmic as ever.
Make no mistake, Acid Crusher is a jam, not a song. Superstar drummer Mario Rubalcaba is usually the guy pushing the envelope of the Earthless sound, propelling Mitchell and bassist Mike Eginton to confront the natural rhythms of our planet head-on and challenging them to blast off into another millennium. But despite his artistic use of toms and bongos, the tempo remains sorely fixed and, well, boring, throughout this anti-alkaline saunter through mirages both near and far. Mitchell’s playing is no doubt very skilful and eloquently soulful, particularly as he solos off and away at around the 13-minute mark, but my issue is that it’s all completely inconsequential. I feel no different at the start or the end of Acid Crusher as I did before I was made aware that it ever existed and, having never felt like that about any Earthless track before, I’m in uncharted waters as to how to react to a piece that feels like it has no structure of any great note. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Acid Crusher is just a finger jabbing at a map, blindly trying to find a perfect oasis in the emptiness, but which is destined to only ever diverge back to the same (0,0) coordinate every 90 seconds; revelling in the lack of purpose in its own simplicity. But try as I might, I can’t say it demands my attention or a repeat listen.
Taking a flip of both your skateboard as well as the florescent yellow wax, Earthless’ fellow San Diego padres Harsh Toke are on hand to marmalade the life out of this jam-infested orgy of noise. Mount Swan does, at least, build and shift through its near 20-minute duration, seeping and slaloming through a graveyard of bleak, claustrophobic root notes and intricate, yet graceful melodies. Richie Belton’s bass riff stays with you throughout the first ten minutes or so, lighting your way down that kaleidoscopic corridor of psyche, until you can barely hear anything but its own eerie morbidity as pro-skater Figueroa’s guitar lines squeal past you in one direction and Gabe Messer’s keys and synchs zip by in another.
By around the 11-minute mark, the bass has become a hypnotic blend of thundering Yawning Man-like rhythms and Can-esque swirling guitars. Even Earthless themselves would be proud of this progression which builds off an oh-so simple basis, yet explores many cackling nooks and crannies along the route as Harsh Toke live up to their moniker in every which way.
Figgy’s solo at 11:30 is the most urgent and pronounced on the record, compelling Austin Ayub’s drums to linger back before following him and Belton down a new track into a circling plughole of progressive bliss as the come-down from that exotic high begins. Mount Swan does indeed sound like just that, a slow and exhilarating ascent before hitting a thunderous peak and sliding back down a relaxed, sombre descent into that box of tripped out, psyched out musical dreaminess.
So there you have it. I finally found an Earthless release that I can’t call mind-changing and I simultaneously discovered the wonders of Harsh Toke, who for me have nipped in and stolen the title belt of Californian Psyche Kings from the reigning champs, until at least the next round of jamming. Acid Crusher / Mount Swan is worth hunting down for Harsh Toke’s contribution alone, but if I were you, I would be ready to expect a different kind of Earthless to their usual star-destroying brilliance. Back to the ball-scratching, tortilla chip videos we go again then, I guess…
Scribed by: Pete Green