[27 January 2008]
Oh sure, ASG—the “Amplification of Self-Gratification”—what a surefire way to tell the world you’re having a wank. Yet, as wanking goes, these North Carolina stoner-metal Viva La Bam soundtrack sculptors aren’t half bad. Win Us Over is their fourth full-length, another competent foray into alternately soaring and crashing melodic rock, complete with grim military imagery and some obvious confusion about religion. In other words, another decent snowboarding soundtrack.
Though their promo materials promise a “dense cloth of abrasiveness” and “melodic foreboding ... soaked in Southern roadhouse whiskey”, the overall tone here is actually epic and clean. Occasionally the guitars get a tad sludgy, but really this sonic landscape is all sublimated angst. The epic part is what I like: lots of blind-drive thudding momentum decorated with echoing arpeggios and unthreatening (often multi-tracked) vocals. It’s a good sound, maybe a little anonymous-sounding (this band really does need a charismatic frontman—or frontwoman), but usually detailed and angular enough to maintain your interest.
ASG are at their best when they make their songs multipaced and complicated. For example, “The Dull Blade” features a cascade of apocalyptic imagery (“Now the blood of the fountain recedes” etc.) spiked by an interesting refrain: “I’ll give you something worth fighting for.” Or the very Mastodonic “Dream Song”, which might even be an anti-war epic with its “Twenty pine boxes all stacked to the side” and “Preachers of white lies”. I even dig the title track, which seems to be depicting either a spiritual crisis or some sort of run for the border (cf. the “golden sky down in Mexico”), but with an odd poppy chorus which sounds like nothing less than Green Day.
But… there is something weird about this album. I was alerted by the opening line of the opening track: “God speaks his love through splits in tongues.” Not only is this nonsensical, it’s not very often that you get a supposedly whiskey-fueled southern-rock-sludge-psych-metal record drawing attention to a phrase like “God speaks his love”. Later, in the song “Palm Springs” (more on that fascinating track below), we hear the following chorus: “Jesus I’m a sinner / Jesus I’m your sin”. There’s also a reference to “Heaven” as a “home” in the track “Low End Insight”. And the “ruthless angels tracking my soul” in the title track? Oh, and let’s not forget the “salvation overthrow” in “Dream Song”. So, is ASG a closet Christian Metal band? I think so. Or, at the very least, Christian imagery plays a major role in their mindscape, even if they’re trying to be subversive. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it also might explain why Win Us Over seems a little too safe for my danger-driven (not to mention whiskey-fueled) tastes.
Then there’s the very witty and entertaining song entitled “Palm Springs”, which is definitely not about the Coachella Valley. On the one hand, there is a curious refrain that goes, “You’re mother said I was the one / I’ll get a gun.” This suggests a sinister back-story involving jealousy, obsession, and the Second Amendment. On the other hand, it evokes a little song entitled “Mama Told Me Not to Come”, especially when you hear this: “Jesus I’m a sinner / Yes I’m by myself again”. And then this: “Hand grenades will blow away / The passion let it burn away.” “Hand” grenades? “Palm” springs? This is a song about masturbation! It has to be! “Amplification of Self-Gratification”, c’mon!
Okay, I’ll stop. We have, after all, come full-circle. Win Us Over ended up losing me, but I do think it works as a benign apocalyptic soundtrack, or maybe ... something to play alongside some snowboarding footage. I guess if I were you, I probably wouldn’t use this as a masturbation soundtrack though. Safety first.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/asg-win-us-over/