Yeah, I’ll admit I was hesitant entering into this album. Four tracks of stoner, psych instrumental rocking doesn’t immediately reach out and grab my old punk rock heart but you know what? I trust Small Stone by now not to offer us up a turd on a plate so with that in mind…let’s play.
Things quick off in fine style with “Slave Cylinder” which is built around a muscular riff and a huge groove laid down by drummer Erik Conn. Possibly the most structured track from the album and the shortest at a shade over 7 minutes this track flexes the band’s more metal muscles before delving into a freaked out acid rock jam. At this early stage it becomes clear that we are dealing with some serious quality musos with chops to die for. Conn, in particular, shines as a drummer of some considerable skill and feel anchoring the band with equal measures of weight, groove and dexterity.
“Sand, Stone and Pearl” represents something of a musical about face and displays the other side of the Tia Carrera coin. A 14 minute shimmering instrumental that centres around a delicate guitar figure that brings to mind Pink Floyd’s classic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. In line with the aquatic theme of the title this track ebbs and flows like a tide, building and dropping the tension before levelling out into a loose jam. Propped up on some delicate Fender Rhodes from guest musician Ezra Reynolds this is a real feet in the water on a summer day kind of track with some deft yet tasteful Hendrix inspired lead work from Jason Morales.
Now things get a little contentious. “Saturn Missile Battery” is the track on which this album could stand or fall. Starting on a high note, all boogie rhythms and blazing psychedelic guitar pyrotechnics the energy is palpable and throughout the track the energy remains high and the playing exceptional but the problem is the length. At over 33 minutes there is the sensation that things have become a little self indulgent and a little more self editing may have been in order during the recording process. Most bands attempting a track of this length will spice things up with shifts in sonics and structure but not Tia Carrera. Although there are some subtle shifts in mood as the band build and drop the vibe there is little in the way of structure and almost no shift in tempo until things slow down at around the 25 minute mark by which time many listeners may be lost. Drop the needle on this track at any point within the first 25 minutes and it will be hard to distinguish one part from another. I will admit that many times during listening to this album my finger started to twitch towards the skip button but my journalistic sense of fair play has always stopped me. For the ADHD ridden youth of today this may well be a step too far and most listeners may need a healthy dose of Ritalin to stay the distance. I don’t want to sound overtly harsh here as at any point during this track, should you care to drop in you will be treated to some exceptional music and incredible playing but overall this is as much a test of the listener’s endurance as it is the musicians’ stamina.
Things are far more restrained on final track “A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing” which steps into funkier territory with Morales busting out some tasty Strat licks riding atop a shifting yet constantly grooving rhythm section. Obviously Hendrix is going to be an obvious reference point but this always stays on the right side of blatant hero worship and owes as much to other greats such as Jeff beck and Carlos Santana with the occasional nod to Jimmy Page.
This is definitely an album designed to suit a mood. If you’re after a quick energy fix may we direct you to other aisles in the Small Stone store, but if you have a big bag of weed, an industrial strength bong, a couple of lava lamps and some black light posters with an hour or so to kill this is perfect. An excellent exercise in instrumental skill and telepathic jamming dexterity that is up there with contemporaries like Earthless but one that would have benefited from a little self restraint in parts.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall