To a large degree, stoner/psychedelic rock bands rely on their fanbases’ unwillingness to turn the calendar page past, oh, say, 1974. Such is the case with the Los Angelenos in Nebula, who are celebrating this year’s reissue of their ‘98 debut, Let It Burn, with the brand-new Heavy Psych here in ‘09. Not only has the band—guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass, drummer Rob Oswald, and bassist/vocalist Tom Davies—not altered their formula since the second Clinton administration, they haven’t altered the formula that’s worked for psychedelically-inclined bands for the past 40 years… and damned if it doesn’t sounds fresh in a year that’s been lacking in the hard rock department.
It’s a measure of how far rock has (d)evolved in the past half-century that the Nebula Way—unabashed, no-frills power trio rock—is now the exception and not the rule. Still, there’s no denying the simplicity of three dudes (or gals) getting together and raising a racket. And yes, while the implicit message is that Nebula don’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, there’s yet another implicit message that rock is a continuum, and Heavy Psych is designed for that part of your brain where hard rock is still king.
After the watery, pulsing opener of, uh, “Pulse” establishes the late ‘60s/early ‘70s vibe (with a nice jazzy guitar riff from Glass to boost), Heavy Psych finds its footing on the stomping “The Dagger”, which is about one Jon Lord solo away from being a Deep Purple Mk. II ringer—and more importantly, it’s the spot on the album where you realize that Nebula are three grown-ass dudes who love rock ‘n’ roll. “Aphrodite” revels in the warped blues that Mudhoney perfected 20 years ago… by aping the Stooges’ warped blues from 20 years prior to that. On “In the Depth’s” (sic), frontman Glass nails Iggy’s suburban psychedelic headtrip/boastfulness and Mark Arm’s delivery when he bellows “In my mind everything’s alright!” Glass does it again on side-B opener “The Other Side”, with satellites zooming over and couched by what seems like the entire universe, plus Davies’s elastic bass, he howls “You’re living on the other side of my mind!” Seriously, how is this not an outtake from Mudhoney’s last album, 2008’s The Lucky Ones?
To Nebula’s credit, Heavy Psych could’ve been a bloated, proggy mess—as evinced by the (mercifully only two-minute) go-nowhere underwater nonsense adventure, “Dream Submarine”—but it checks in at a lean 35 minutes, even with the flourishes like the Big Rock Ending of the boogie-tastic “Crown of Thorns”. The record closes with “Little Yellow Pill” (not an ode to the now-defunct pain reliever Nuprin), a back-porchy Led Zeppelin III blues number which proves the band has learned the midtempo lessons of ‘70s rock as well, and the bizarre audio collage, unlisted and out-of-place, “The Running of the Bulls”—hey, these guys know psych garage runs deeper and weirder than Fun House and Superfuzz Bigmuff.
Heavy Psych feels both weighted by history and infinitely lighter and spryer than the turgid slop that all too often passes for hard rock these days. A few new twists would’ve put these guys over the top, but as it is, hungry rock fans will find plenty of new cosmos to explore here.
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