There is no way to begin a review of this challenging album without quoting this telling opening passage from “Just As Was Told”:
‘This is the story of three Texas boys mindin’ their own bidnis when the Angel of the Lord appeared unto them saying, ‘When the Winston Churchills start firin’ their Winston rifles into the sky from the lone star state, drinkin’ their lone star beer and smokin’ their winston cigarettes, know the time is drawin’ nigh when the son shall be lifted on high’. We told ’em that didn’t sound very Sunday-go-ta-meetin. ‘What do you expect when the lord calls on the crippled, deaf and blind to lead the children of Israel into the promised land’. ‘Children of Israel?’, we asked. ‘Don’t you boys know nothin’?, the USA is the center of Jer-usa-lem”‘.
Is this self-proclaimed “space-rock band from Denton, Texas”, expecting to be taken seriously or is it merely yanking our chain? I would venture an opinion that Lift to Experience — viz. Josh “Buck” Pearson (guitar, vocals), Josh “Bear” Browning (bass) and Andy “The Boy” Young (drums) — is deadly serious about its debut The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads and equally serious about its being “a concept album about the end of the world with Texas as the Promised Land” and all that.
So how the heck did a space-rock band from Denton, Texas end up with an obscure British label established by former Cocteau Twins Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde? Raymonde explained,”When I heard the demos, I was staggered by the swagger, the effortlessness of it all. Surely they couldn’t really be as cool as they sounded? A plane trip to Texas was next on the agenda, and my fate was sealed. A thunderous show (literally inside a tent during one of the worst storms in Texas history) convinced me that I had to put this record out, but also that I was undoubtedly in the presence of genius. We signed the band within two minutes of them walking off stage”. The result is plain for all to see.
At its most accessible, Lift to Experience plainly evokes the grand albeit self-aggrandising big music of U2’s Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum. This trait is most evident in songs like “These Are the Days”, “Falling from Cloud 9” and “Waiting to Hit”. This musical reference point also calls in associations with the Velvet Underground and Joy Division (the roots of U2), as well as Jeff Buckley and Radiohead (the branches of U2). At once ethereal and earthy, the wash of sonic noise that saturates much of the music here easily conjures memories of such innovative noise merchants as Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and Spaceman 3.
The fact that Lift to Experience is able to vividly evoke such a myriad of cutting-edge rock forbears and at the same time marry its sound thematically with apocalyptic and biblical imagery — reminiscent of Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and 16 Horsepower — suggests that we are indeed witnessing an epoch-making artistic force in gestation.
Pearson’s ties with the fire-and-brimstone bible-thumping brand of Christianity are clearly evident in this incendiary work — his father abandoned the family to pursue the faith. Many of the songs are sung much like church litany, like the understated “Down Came the Angels”, where the atmospheric background and echoey bass buttress Pearson’s hymn-like delivery.
But what keeps this album edgy and provocative is the ability of the band to inject levity into the fairly sombre subject matter. In “Waiting to Hit”, Pearson bargains with God — “Lord, I’ll make you a deal: I will if you give me a smash hit so I can build a city on the hill”. On “These Are the Days”, Pearson blows a kiss after intoning “blood on their teeth and lips” and he proudly proclaims Lift to Experience “the best band in the whole damn land and Texas is the reason”.
This heady double album is in essence a seamless song cycle with movements that drift in and out with stream of consciousness meandering. Consumed as a whole, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads is an immense undertaking. Our rapt attention is mirrored by the band’s own compulsion, as Pearson declares on the mutant hillbilly of “Down with the Prophets”, “we sing these songs because we have to, not because we want to”. And in the end, the full-blooded, epic, ten-minute “Into the Storm” closes with a statement of intent, a manifesto: “Follow me over the Jordan over desert sand (Rio Grande) / Follow me . . . Israel into the Promised Land / Follow me over the Jordan over desert sand (Rio Grande) / Follow me into Texas into the Promised Land”.
Whatever your answer may be, there’s no denying the power of this album. It is perhaps the perfect soundtrack for these chaotic and troubled times.