In the late 1990s and early 2000s, DC’s Thievery Corporation fused a multitude of ethnic genres into down-tempo grooves, crafting trippy, mesmeric cuts without a drop of sweat on them. Now with his first Dust Galaxy album, Thievery Corporation co-conspirator Rob Garza has turned up the heat significantly, melding dub, bhangra beat, dance, and trip hop to a decidedly rock foundation. Turns out even the coolest behind-the-scenes type guys want to stand on a sticky club floor doing windmills just like Townshend.
As in Thievery Corporation, Garza brings in other musicians to help—this time Duffy and Darren Mooney of Primal Scream, bass player Ashis Vyas from Thievery Corporation and GoGoGo Airheart, and electronicist Shawn Lee. His work takes on varied tones and colors depending on who’s playing. Opener “Sun In Your Head” has a trippy, pulsating psych vibe much akin to Primal Scream, while “River of Ever Changing Forms” twangs and vibrates with Indian energies, all tabla beats and shape-shifting sitar notes. A slumberous reggae bassline underscores politically-charged “Sons of Washington”, answered by staccato guitars on the upbeats and cavernous echoing drum fills. There are even a couple of acoustic folk rock songs in “Down” and “Crying in the Night” where Garza reveals an unexpected vulnerability. They’re not the best thing on the album, but not terrible either.
The best songs, though, come early on, in the one-two-three punch of “Sun in Your Head”, “Limitless”, and the first single “Mother of Illusion.” Here the withering heat of live rock and roll meets the complex rhythms of ethnic-influenced dance music. The twitchy wah-wahs of “Sun In Your Head” skitter over insistent, body-moving bass, all hedonism, all physical joy. “Limitless” is even better, its hard soul guitars pushed to double-time, the whirr of organ underneath. Garza is almost rapping here, his fast syncopated chant over a jungly barrage of toms. The song is sort of funny, sort of serious, as Garza describes the exaggerated extent of his love: “More than there are whores in Los Angeles / More than convenience stores or paper bill boards”. “Mother of Illusion”, the third in this very strong series, starts out with a “Sympathy for the Devil” vamp of guitar and bongos, Garza whispering, muttering, insinuating over the top. Throughout all these tracks, the bass is elemental, pushing everything forward, giving the songs depth and sensuality.
The album sputters a bit after “River of Ever Changing Forms”, with a couple of good songs (“Cheribum Sing” and “Come Hear the Trumpets”) slotted in between weaker acoustic cuts and one-off style experiments (“Sons of Washington”). If you’re going to be a rock star, you probably do need at least one power ballad… but maybe that’s as good an argument as any for not being a rock star. For the first half, though Garza really does achieve something special—a hybrid of live rock kick, varied ethnic flavor, and calculated electronic complexity. This is a galaxy worth visiting.