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Jay Presents: A Quick One

February 22, 2010

Spirits of the Dead: “White Lady/Black Rave”, “The Waves of Our Ocean” (from S/T LP, White Elephant Records, 2009)

In this episode of A Quick One, Jay serves up single-portion platters of some piping hot rock n’ roll, courtesy of his newfound friends: heavy rockers Spirits of the Dead.

The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Spirits of the Dead”

Spirits of the Dead conjure up the pure rock fury of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Rush, and contemporaries like Wolfmother, along with many other past and present luminaries of the British, American, and, yes, Canadian persuasion (just joking, eh?). So, it might come as a surprise to you that this band arrives with crashing oars from Oslo, Norway (but it shouldn’t–there’s a lot of good music coming from Down by the Seaside ). My little “Immigrant Song” reference might seem silly, but it is entirely appropriate–this band really does call forth spirits from the great late-60’s Blues Revival (Electrified), while summoning the power of a little modern electr(on)ic magic from the early 70’s up to Right Now.

The band wears its influences on its sleeves–and boasts of working with legendary Mastering Master George Marino–but they do plenty to keep the music original and fresh-sounding. They blend their influences extremely well, going from toothy swagger to delicate crooning in the space of one dizzyingly propulsive track. Tempo changes keep you on your toes, while a cross-bred Beatles-King Crimson melody beg you to sing or wail along. Plenty of vocal and instrumental chops abound to keep both classic-rock classicists and finicky hipsters happy. Spirits of the Dead offer proto-punky zig-zags (c.f. Iggy with Bowie on The Idiot), multi-octave vocal skills, and they aren’t afraid to play solos. What’s not to love? (You do still love”rocking out,” don’t you? Or, is that just what you want us to think based on the bumper stickers on your Toyota Sienna?)

Spirits of the Dead already caught my ear with their obvious love of their forebears–who I also love. It’s the way they build upon that solid, blues-based foundation that keeps me listening. And listening. I highly recommend these two tracks (and this entire album) to lovers of old- and new-school heavy music. And now a moment of pseudo-preachy (but good-natured and well-intentioned) editorialism: On the band’s MySpace page, they describe their music as “psychedelic-stoner-folk-rock.” While I agree headbangingly with the first one and last two, the second label–stoner–doesn’t sit well with me as a sub-genre name and never has, much like “grunge.” (These two labels sound more derogatory than they should, in addition to focusing more on fashion and lifestyle choices rather than actually, you know, trying be somewhat descriptive of the music.). As if all slower, riff-based rock is somehow too blunted to be beautiful, too thunderous to be thoughtful. I know the SotD use the term as an easy way to communicate certain aspects of their craft, I just wish it wasn’t the prevalent one that most critics use to do so. No offense, anybody, but I think it’s just a bit lazy and too connotatively negative.

Fans of detailed packaging design and intricate artwork will especially appreciate the graphic design work of Martin Kvamme; this would look fantastic in LP format (and it’s available from their MySpace page)! As one recent download code insert put it (tucked away in a vinyl purchase, ironically): Long live physical media!

Jay plans to interview Spirits of the Dead for an upcoming episode of Jay’s Music Exchange, but may require the help of a medium. Stay tuned (and get in touch if you can communicate with the spirit world)!

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