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Primordial Undermind - Thin Shells of Revolution

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Artist: Primordial Undermind

Album: Thin Shells of Revolution

Label: Emperor Jones

Review date: Jul. 21, 2004

The nomadic Primordial Undermind, based around current Texan Eric Arn, comprises seven members this time around, including two drummers, a member on "triwave picgenerator," and one on sax, clarinet, and various other instruments. The band has previously demonstrated its take on a vaguely space-rock oriented psychedelia, and on Thin Shells of Revolution they proffer a range of songs that spread across any definition of "psych rock," from quiet acoustic songs to entirely abstract fields of instrumental frenzy.

The difficulty here, though, is a lack of focus, both in terms of approach and in terms of breadth. The band clearly has some strengths, but they don't always play to them on this album. Far be it from me to discourage stretching - bands often produce their finest moments while teetering on the edge of their comfort zone. But it's a tricky balance to maintain, and the key is to be found in the editing room, in knowing what to keep and what to drop. That can be difficult, since some fondness often makes it difficult to let go.

The album's opening track, "F.L.I. (Flaming Lizard Inauguration)," is a good example. Starting with some heavy distorted riffing, and very strong drums, it's an ear-catcher. Arn's lead guitar, carried along by the synths (that picogenerator, perhaps?), sears a line across the sky. But at just over six minutes, the song eventually fails to hold attention. It never grows too old, but if shortened, it would leave a stronger impression. "Akaknow," later on the album, is around the same length, but succeeds better because of its structure. After a punkish, energetic opening, it opens out into a clearly different, calmer space partway through. When it kicks back in towards the end, it grabs your ear quite effectively.

On the flip side, songs like "There is a Time," "WWOD?" and "Stagger the Heart" are more traditional, slower psych. The first benefits from a simple sing-song melody, given a counterpoint by densely fuzzed-out guitar, and works well. "Stagger the Heart" takes a similar approach, but suffers from off-key vocals and a somewhat aimless feel. Again, it's a matter of focusing on strengths.

"Ten Toes, One Soul" feels like a somewhat ordinary jam; after a brief spacey intro, it's a fairly nice layer of guitars over electronic washes and a solid rhythm section. But even at eight minutes, it never quite feels like it reaches its destination, and when the best moments do come towards the end, its too little, too late. Lastly, the eleven-minute closer, "Kinky Sex (Makes the World Go Round)," comes off as a pure detour - unlike the other songs here, it's a landscape of random sounds and occasional free-jazz-light sorts of explosions. Lying at the end of the album, it's as if the band knew that it didn't fit, but also didn't want to let it go. The result is a track begging to be skipped after the previous seven songs.

When Primordial Undermind focus and come together, they produce moments like the beginning of "F.L.I.," the memorable textured melody of "There is a Time," the strong cohesion towards the end of "Ten Toes, One Soul," and the Popol Vuh-ish "WWOD?" These may make Thin Shells of Revolution worthwhile for psych fans. But if the band can focus more carefully and play to their strengths, they may produce a whole album of such moments, and we'd all be looking forward to that.

By Mason Jones

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