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The Gris Gris - The Gris Gris

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Artist: The Gris Gris

Album: The Gris Gris

Label: Birdman

Review date: Oct. 15, 2004

Oakland, California's The Gris Gris gather together the tattered ends of psychedelia, garage rock, clattering free accumulations, and some plain old-fashioned rock. Following his Medicine Fuck Dream, former Texan Greg Ashley roped in bassist Oscar Michel and drummer Joe Haener to form The Gris Gris, apparently channeling equal parts Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Stones, and Blue Cheer with a dose of modern weirdness.

If there's a weakness here it might be a surfeit of unpredictability. While it undoubtedly keeps things interesting over the album's 40 minutes, it leaves the band's identity a bit of an open question. Is that a bad thing, since they pretty much do it well? Perhaps not. Speaking of the album's length, allow me a quick thanks for not feeling obliged to fill up the CD’s 80-minute allotment.

Some of this album is pure instrumental darkness, filled with menacing fuzz guitar and echoed drums, but the band has a way of extracting a sort of beauty from even the dankest, greasiest squall. Ashley's vocals, one part Iggy and one part Jagger, veer from in-your-face aggression to desolate heartbreak; the plaintive vocal melody of "Mary #38" is something you'll find yourself humming later, a perfect blend of the Stones and Black Heart Procession. The very brief "Medication #3" spotlights a breathy ’60s-psych side of the band, as Ashley sings gently over strummed acoustic guitar, while "Winter Weather" finishes the album with a countrified blues chant that's reminiscent of Let It Bleed-era Stones.

On the other side of their sound, The Gris Gris cowers from the light into the darkness. "Raygun" opens the album with a misleading pretty guitar, blown apart by feedback and turned into heavy garage rock, while "Everytime" goes through a number of personalities. Chiming guitar alternates with a slightly jarring Stranglers-style keyboard riff, until the song breaks down and gets all Iron Butterfly. The keyboard riff doesn't quite match the rest of the song, but when things get crazy later with a particularly strong guitar lead, it's quite satisfying.

Perhaps the best example of the band’s talents is "Me queda um bejou," which moves from a close-to-annoying abstract beginning to a really compelling mixture of dark prettiness. When Ashley sings ”You're a meadow, you're a meadow today / You're a widow, you're a widow again / And you will hold your ears, my dear / And you will close your eyes, surprise", it's affecting.

The juxtaposition of simple tunes like "Winter Weather" with cavernous explorations like "Everytime" can be difficult to reconcile, and may not work for everyone. But Ashley and company pull it off, and the result deserves to be heard.

By Mason Jones

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