Psychedelic rocker NAAM released its self-titled debut back in 2009, and given trance-inducing tracks like the 16-whirling-dervish-minute “Kingdom”, fans of heavy and hazy rock quickly took note. NAAM soon set off on tour, with a coveted slot at Roadburn Festival in 2011 included, but since then it’s been slim pickings from the band. NAAM has subsequently released a 7-inch of Nirvana covers, and The Ballad of the Starchild EP, which has an accompanying acid-dripping astronomical/Egyptological video for “The Starchild” that’s well worth a visit. However, the kinds of lysergic guitar rock that NAAM dispenses works best when the full-length dose is ingested, and accordingly, the band’s new album, Vow, is set to be a welcome return for fans of macrocosmic jaunts—even if the album’s focus is more microcosmic this time round.
At 37 minutes, Vow is only 11 minutes longer than The Ballad of the Starchild EP, and with lengthy tracks being de rigueur delights in the psychedelic sphere, NAAM fans might, understandably, be feeling a little nervous about Vow‘s running time. There are no tracks stretching out to time-warping length here, but NAAM does traverse plenty of new mind-melting ground. The band makes extensive use of electronics, vocal harmonies, and velvety, buzzing melodies, and while the aforementioned focus is more inward than galaxy gazing, the album’s meditations are still swathed in cosmic rock and still highly effective in stimulating a psychoactive mood.
NAAM has been working hard on finding the perfect psychedelic equation since it was formed as a powerhouse trio in Brooklyn in 2009 by vocalist/guitarist Ryan Lugar, bassist John Bundy, and drummer Eli Pizzuto. (John “Fingers” Weingarten joined in 2012 to provide the electronics, organ, and synthesizers.) Like the work of many of its Tee Pee Records labelmates, NAAM’s sound draws heavily from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, with projectile riffs launching into the void and keyboard rocket-trails. Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, and a little MC5 are reference points—along with a strong kosmische drawl too—and like similar purveyors of proggy psych and high-octane space rock (such as Mugstar, Ancestors, or Earthless), NAAM shows a commitment to the exploratory ethos of hallucinogenic rock ‘n’ roll.
Vow‘s 12 tracks are certainly proof of the NAAM’s dedication to that endeavor. The band’s psych and stomp has been mixed with a droning glaze since day one, and in that sense, the heavier hypnotic rock on Vow continues the band’s original tack. Lugar’s guitar floats atop molten meanders and then propels itself into cannabinoid-laced overdriven reels and rolls on “Vow”. “Of the Hour”, and “Pardoned Pleasure”—all fueled by swirling electronics and riffing and a driving Krautrock propulsion, with echoing, multilayered vocals weaving their way through.
Of course, that’s space rock 101, something NAAM does exceptionally well. But what’s new on Vow is a stronger injection of soul. The organ-rich blues of “Midnight Glow” gets the metaphysical cauldron boiling, channeling raga rock and flashes of Jethro Tull (and funk filtered through a grease trap), while the mystical and mellow electro-folk of “Laid to Rest” offers a couple of minutes of bucolic transcendence. Bundy’s bass writhes around in jazzier territory when NAAM sets its sights on looser promenades, and Pizzuto covers a lot of ground too—the brief tribal thump of “In & Thru” leading into the percussion driven “Pardoned Pleasure”.
Lugar’s vocals, often harmonically bundled with Bundy’s, gruffly croon through much of Vow, adding to what is a wonderfully mesmeric vibe. However, Weingarten’s role is the standout. His keyboards and effects set the baseline freakout tenor on many tracks, and he adds a slinky synth groove to the magnificently heady jam of “Beyond”. His Suspiria atmospherics on “Brightest Sight” and “Silent Call” make for a haunting pieces of keyboard esotericism, and its those tracks, and the gentle piano drift of “Adagio”, that redefine the notion that NAAM is a heavy rocker interested in mass alone. Certainly, “Skyscraper”, which shimmers with sinsemilla-shoegaze and blissfully pans and phases its way to firmamental heights, is a fine example of the intoxicating adventurism found on many of Vow‘s tracks. It reveals a band keen on exploring all corners of the psychedelic spectrum, unafraid to mix dark and light pleasures, plunge into the depths of fuzz and fire, or simply soar.
Whether Vow‘s experimentalism will satisfy fans looking for the heavy punch of NAAM’s debut is obviously up in the air, but the album definitely takes the listener on an imaginative journey, and the widening of Namm’s musical parameters sets the band on a new astral plane. Certainly, accompanying the band on step two of its sonic pilgrimage offers abundant mind-expanding promise, and the mixing of futuristic and vintage jams leaves the door wide open for both heavy and heavenly pursuits in the future. While Vow doesn’t explicitly signal whether NAAM will be following the rabbit down the hole or dispensing anti-matter starbursts next time around, the combination of both here makes it an expedition well worth joining.
// Notes from the Road
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