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Published: 2002/10/25
by Bill Stites

self-titled – Particle


By now you've heard of Particle: Upstart band from LA – maybe the first
real jamband to come down that pike since the Mothers? – suddenly gets
super-hip. A bunch of famous cats hop on the bandwagon and sit in at their
shows. Before long, a two-year old band is selling out venues and
crowds all over the country.

They pin their sound to a motto, "Space Porn Funk", which is distastefully
cheesy, but at least undeniably accurate. A lot of people paraphrase it as
something like "funk mixed with house and trance", but that's not right.
It's jam-funk mixed with jam-house and jam-trance. There's a rather
distinct and growing gap between those pulsating styles and their heady
doppelgangers at this point, and it's high time we all started acknowledging
it, lest we fall in. The key point seems to be minimalism. Even though
funk and house are supposed to be defined by (figuratively or literally)
inhuman repetition – check out James Brown and the Original J.B.s playing
"Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin'", and you'll hear a seven-piece band
the same two-bar vamp for over 14 minutes with zero change – few of these
post-Phish noodlebands have the patience to really give the music's most
important element its due. They want the attitude and the label, but they
don't want to have to earn it. They can't resist the urge to fill, to
change their part up, to take that solo.

As captured on their self-titled first release, Particle actually fare
better in that department than a lot of groups, at least for awhile. The
opening, and oldest, track, "Kneeknocker", is by far the most restrained,
and thus the most balanced, of the four tunes on the disc. Recorded not
long after the band formed, it actually predates guitarist Charlie
Hitchcock's tenure. The guy on the track, Dave Simmons, lays pretty low for
the most part, but when you're trying to play rhythmic music that's a good
thing. The tune actually succeeds in its presumed goal of blending jam-funk
and jam-house into a coherent whole. If nothing else, that's novel — a
to which relatively few of the bands in the world really can lay claim.

For me, things start to go downhill on the next track, "Elevator". It's a
nifty little tune, maybe my favorite composition of the four. But the
lineup difference is immediately striking, and portentous. Mere seconds
into the track the listener is confronted with a wall of notes coming from
Mr. Hitchcock's amp, which only occasionally lets up for the rest of the
album. And when it does, it's usually because he's passed off the solo to
keyboardist Steve Molitz, not because the band is trying to listen to each
other and create something as a group. Still, at least "Elevator" and
"Road's a Breeze (at 3 AM)" keep a lid on the noodles brewing, and curtail
their wanderings before they overwhelm the songs themselves. The descent is
consistent, though, and by the end of the last and longest track, "Ed and
Molly," I'm coming up with metaphors I really shouldn't repeat here.

I've heard the hardcore Particle heads regard this disc as a poor
representation of what they're up to these days, in that the live material
is over a year old already, and "Kneeknocker" damn near a year older than
that. Which is interesting, because I actually like this album more than
what I've heard from them recently. Both times I saw them live I felt that
Hitchcock's Trey Anastasio-meets-Kirk Hammett shredhead wankery and the
overall atmosphere of excess thoroughly overshadowed any original
contribution they had to make. The music here is a little more uncertain,
and a lot less bloated. In my opinion, that's a worthwhile tradeoff.

Underneath the hype, Particle are a thoroughly competent band with a decent
idea and the means to pull it off. It's rare that anybody can produce a
track as self-assured and complete as "Kneeknocker" a month after their live
debut. However, nothing about them except their decent idea and the speed
with which they executed it really separates them from the pack. They may
be Earth's only jam-funk-house band. But there are plenty of bands jamming,
funking and housing much better than they.

There's an expression for what you find when you combine three different
things in the easiest and least subtle way possible: the lowest common
denominator. I'll stop short of assuming that was Particle's goal, but it's
what they've achieved on this album. At least they'll serve as an
interesting test case of what happens when a band gets grabbed in its
gestational period and blown up onto the big stage. And, I guess, of what
happens to a scene when it starts to reward those who pursue the lowest
common denominator.

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