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Published: 2006/12/23
by Jesse Jarnow

Stages 2 – various artists

Apogee Records

So, really, what place do jambands have in a post-jam world? How many roads must a man walk down over and over again before he gets kicked in the nuts? These are not unrelated questions. Apogee Records' Stages 2 grabs seven bands that are, well, jambands, and puts them in their element. To be clear, I do not want to kick any of them in the nuts. That would be wrong, it would be false. It is fair to say, however, that none of the bands featured here break any new ground, and generally come off like anachronisms. But, hey, jambands were untrendy anachronisms to begin with. More important, these bands jam, so — if that’s what yer into — here you go.

With the exception of the pop-leaning the Brakes (who create an impressively George Martin-like horn arrangement on "Mr. Hollow," sadly the only song of their five in which they use their horns) and the fusiony Akashic Record, the other five acts serve up hippie electronica, never sounding like actual '90s dance music (let alone, gasp, contemporary dance music like reggaeton) so much as Pink Floyd’s "On the Run." And they don’t use it so much as a way to create an emotional effect, per se, as to make a bit of tension before returning to the orgiastic shred of an electric guitar.

U-Melt do it best on the instrumental "Schizophrenia," committing to neither the proggy overtones of the song proper, nor the techno beats, but they do make it happen. Sailing off into beds of deep dialogue (mostly between guitarist Rob Salzer and keyboardist Zac Lasher), the quartet is mysterious and enthralling with — and this is what sells it — absolutely no assurance of a happy ending of musical resolution. It could, in theory, go anywhere. But then, whoa, what a happy ending: as the band proceeds piece by piece into climax they, quite frankly, cum into inter-spooge-al overdrive. It’d be almost unfortunate if the previous jam wasn’t so great. It’s, like, organic. (But do vegans swallow?)

There are a few great ideas in "What's Your Status In London?", the first of four cuts from Manhattan's Licorice, including a smart opening chorus (which perhaps could have been pushed to the length of a full song) and a hyperactive reggae groove. The ensuing jam pushes and pulls between the reggae and fauxtronic, eventually resolving in — wait for it — shredding. Green Lemon's own fake reggae thing — slower than Licorice's, and with an Anchorman quote — has a chorus about how either "the Zion" or "desire" (probably the latter) is "your God" or "your gun" (or maybe something else). And then an electronic jam and shredding — though it does go back to the reggae groove, which is friendly enough.

Signal Path — who fire up the digi-tablas — are friendly, too. "Aaron's Cube" falls on the New Agey side of the equation (if only for the tablas, and something about the recording that recalls Sound Tribe Sector 9). The seven-and-a-half minute jam doesn’t end with shredding — rather a quick drum build and a drop into whatever comes next. But the lack of shredding doesn’t do the trick, either (nor does it when Bump move it to the middle of their world-poppy electro-cuts).

None of Stages 2 is embarrassing. Far from it. Some of it is even good music that would be awfully fun to see on a Friday night, especially if there’s a cute person you might like to mate with, or the promise of drugs or booze or what have you. But none of it is partiualrly inspiring or dramatic, and this is mostly because none of these bands really feel like they have an original voice. They are Dionysian in the most definite sense of the word, with no overt promise of larger reward. Anybody who can still find something addictive about new jam music — and wasn’t that the point? total commitment to a good time? — probably stopped reading a few paragraphs ago, and I hope I didn’t scare them away, because there is an experience to be had here, albeit on a well-taken road.

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