There’s good reason to be off-put by the concept of an “electronic jam band.” Wonky, extended synthesizer solos were the hallmark of the worst in prog rock excess, and discovering synthesis didn’t exactly make the Grateful Dead better, “Touch of Grey” notwithstanding. Yet, against all odds, Sound Tribe Sector 9 have pulled off a sound that is equal parts Plaid and Disco Biscuits, with relaxed drum fills tumbling alongside stuttered samples and ascending synth riffs, neither side of the equation feeling forced or overdone. This improbably comfortable connection is the catalyst for the most satisfying moments on Peaceblaster, their latest album.
STS9 tend toward perfectionism in the architecture of their albums—Peaceblaster is only the third release from the group in 10 years—which pays off as the opening few tracks manage to seamlessly segue into one another, with nary a dull moment. “Peaceblaster 68” and “Peaceblaster 08” both feel like Plaid played with more acoustic instruments, while “Metameme”, hands down the best cut on the album, is a blast of gated synths and jungle-lite live drums.
Where Peaceblaster trips is when STS9 let their political conscience, heavy on this release, if the track titles are any indication, get the best of them. The overdriven guitars on “Beyond Right Now” strive to upset and invigorate, but end up coming off corny; ditto the first half of “The New Soma”. But ultimately, these are minor complaints, and given that the album is instrumental (save for a brief sample on an interlude track), listeners are mercifully saved from melodramatic, socially conscious lyrics. Judged solely on the music contained within, Peaceblaster yet again delivers on STS9’s unlikely premise.