Review: Smokey Mirror ‘Smokey Mirror’

If I didn’t know any better, and just threw on the debut album from Dallas Texas’s Smokey Mirror, it’s reasonable to imagine this record was a long-lost psychedelic riff monster from the early seventies. Sure, stoner rock as a genre has leaned into the late ‘60s and early ‘70s since the genre’s inception, but at the end of the day, recycling Black Sabbath riffs while usually awesome, doesn’t necessarily bring that era’s urgent energy, to say nothing of originality, despite whatever vintage equipment a band uses.

Smokey Mirror 'Smokey Mirror'
Smokey Mirror ‘Smokey Mirror’ Artwork

Well, Smokey Mirror has utterly captured the energy and vibe from that era and it’s felt throughout this Self-Titled album. Led by vocalist and guitarist Mario Rodriguez, Smokey Mirror captures the urgent, maniacal energy of MC5, as well as the spaced-out, progressive, psychedelic rock of bands like Can and Captain Beyond, sometimes over the course of a single song. Additionally, being from Texas, there’s certainly some ZZ Top boogie-riff bombast to be heard. Witness opener, Invisible Hand, first heard on the band’s 2017 EP, as it blows the record wide open with a gravity taken straight from ’71. Rodriguez’s frenzied vocals, coupled with his and guitarist Caleb Hollowed’s boogie-rock riffs and psychedelic shred are synced with drummer Cam Martin’s bash-n-crash, and bassist Tyler Gene Davis’s low-end to eyebrow-raising effect.

In fact, the first two songs, the aforementioned Invisible Hand, and Pathless Forrest, are both stellar examples of ‘70’s style boogie/riff rock done right. The tone and energy are impeccable, and we’re just getting started. Smokey Mirror then proceed to show us a taste of their psych/prog side on the dizzying Magick Circle, which was also first heard on the 2017 EP. Rodriguez’s tripped-out, distorted vocals conjure a parallel of other Texas psych bands like The Butthole Surfers, or The 13th Floor Elevators. There are all sorts of twists and turns over the course of Magick Circle including some wicked distorted bass histrionics from Davis, a tasteful pummeling from Martin, including a fucking drum solo, another call back to the ‘70s, and a helping of psychedelic shred form Rodriguez and Hollowed.

Smokey Mirror get their prog-freakout on over the course of Alpha-State Dissociative Trance, a total throwback to the ‘70s prog-weirdos featuring all sorts of head-spinning instrumentation, including some noteworthy bass and Rodriguez sounding like he’s singing underwater, but as if he’s on another planet. The listener gets a Texas-style, acoustic guitar and harmonica, palette-cleansing interlude with the awesomely-named Fried Vanilla Spider Trapeze before the seven-plus-minute psychedelic-blues-boogie monster that is Sacrificial Altar, an exercise in slow-build, heavy psych freakouts that features massive, fuzzed-out rifffery, a colossal low end, biting, distorted vocals and a super cool, improv-esque, proggy middle section that features plenty of guitar dynamics and interplay between Rodriguez and Hollowed, some killer bass stylings from Davis, and all sorts of rhythm theatrics from Martin.

This is a fantastic debut from four guys who have captured ‘70s lightning in a bottle…

If that weren’t enough, A Thousand Days In The Desert, first released as a digital track in 2018, is a sublime, slow-build musical journey that features some phenomenal clean, jazz-style guitar wizardry and some jazzy rhythm action underscoring the bands hints at improv, before Rodriguez and Hollowed hit the pedals, and Smokey Mirror kick out the fucking jams and bring the track to a boogie rock climax.

The penultimate Who’s To Say, one of my favorites on the record, is another psychedelic, jazzy riff-fest that takes the listener on many twists, turns, ups and downs, featuring bottles breaking, and all sorts of crazy, shredding, instrumentation as Smokey Mirror are once again able to open a portal to the early ‘70s as this track would serve as a killer deep cut on any number of ‘70s bangers. Closer, Recurring Nightmare, is a delicate acoustic number that brings this weighty, formidable record to a soft close.

Smokey Mirror is yet another record I went into not expecting too much, and was completely floored by the band’s energy, creativity, and virtuosity. They aren’t doing anything that we haven’t heard before, but they bring the rock and boogie and bring it hard. This is a fantastic debut from four guys who have captured ‘70s lightning in a bottle, as few contemporary bands have. There’s a Radio Moscow/El Perro vibe, but that’s the closest comparison, and really, Smokey Mirror stand on their own.

I’ve said it before, as someone who’s lived next door to Texas for most of my life, there’s not a lot from The Lone Star State that I’m a fan of, but god damn do they produce some stellar rock bands. Smokey Mirror deftly continues that proud tradition in spades, and it looks like Rise Above Records have unearthed another magnificent band to add to their legendary roster.

Label: Rise Above Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Martin Williams