Joyful Noise Recordings, 2014
Review by Kent Manthie
Today is March 25, 2014 and, well, it’s a Tuesday – and you all know what Tuesdays are, don’t ya? It’s “New Release Tuesday”. I don’t know the exact reason, but Tuesdays are always a day that many new CDs, video games, etc. are released – not films, though – movies still, for the most part, come out on Fridays – once in a while you’ll see a Wednesday release – especially around holiday times, i.e, the end of the year. Anyhow, the buzz about this “New Release Tuesday” is the debut “SuperGroup” of The Melvins’ Dale Crover, Joe Plummer, who’s played with Modest Mouse and The Shins and Coady Willis who’s also played drums in The Melvins as well as Murder City Devils, Big Business and a couple others. They’re project is called Hew Time and the album is eponymous.
What is unique about Hew Time is that it’s an all-percussion album. No instruments except drums, bongos, wooden blocks, cymbals, and other percussive materials. The concept of Hew Time came from an album by legendary jazz drummer, Max Roach, called M’Boom. Originally, Plummer’s idea was to do a straight cover version of the album, but Coady, with help from Dale, convinced him that doing a straight cover version would be near- if not totally impossible.
Right now there is a limited edition Gold Vinyl release – 1000 copies being manufactured – in fact, before today, one had the chance to pre-order the Gold Vinyl release. Actually, before that, there was a Black & Gold vinyl release, but that one has since sold out. If you want a Gold Vinyl copy, you’d better act fast, as they’re going quite fast as well.
On Hew Time, Hew Time does some fascinating work – each member is a drummer of their respective band and, so it’s a natural (to them) that they’d all stick to what they know best – or at least are known for.
For some example of the sounds are familiar, you have a lot of jazz grooves mixed in with familiar sounding rock rolls, but that kind of “paradigm” isn’t “hewed” to very long, if at all; they are all over the place in this thing. I think it’s really cool that these guys were inspired to do this from an older, well-known (to jazz enthusiasts, but ask your average pop music fan who Max Roach was and you’ll get a blank stare or an “uh, I dunno” right away.
I definitely wanted to point out the magnificent part on “Swung” where the meandering percussive inventiveness suddenly gets a notion to do a straight-ahead, jazzy drum “solo” – which is kind of funny, calling it a “solo” – ha ha ha… but what I mean is that one of the drummers (who? I’m not quite sure, as I don’t have the whole album in front of me) goes off on a really be-boppin’ jaunt, where he does a cross between extreme time-keeping beats as well as a funky jazz riff. That is a real thrill. Then, onto the next tune, “Bell Door”, where things get a little mystical. It’s almost got “Sun-Ra” written on it, what, with the space-y, underworld, ju-ju force of the toned-down rhythm, whereby there’s more percussion in the non-traditional-rock-drumming way, if you know what I mean. On “Swimming Pool”, this vein is extended a little, however there are a couple of bolts of drumming that bring a kind of cadence to the experience. There is, even though it’s a percussion-only CD, some kind of pipe-flute thing that, in the background, also not unlike Sun-Ra, is the source of any “melody” that you can find. This sort of thing also evokes images of a shamanic ritual, out in the depth of the Amazon jungle, etc. where the people are all entranced, with the help of Ayahuasca or Yage – hallucinogenic compounds that are derived from plants which are carefully prepared by the men of the tribe, stirring all the ingredients together in a liquid base in order to get it done just right (I’m obviously not a chemist, I’m just going by what little information I have on this). But, I’d say that for any middle-class college kids from the whitebread suburbs of New York or from the “Valley” (San Fernando, that is) in Los Angeles, CA who thinks that this sort of shaman-led, trance-inducing ritual that would be done in a circle, with a melange of primitive, percussive instruments and whatnot, would be a “hip” thing to try (maybe LSD is too harsh and besides the white kids want to get away from their square parents paradigm and
“Bell Window” has a more rock ‘n’ roll drum track to it – almost a John Bonham vibe to it, mixed with some of the other, useful tools, it’s kind of like a way to exorcise a demon or, alternatively, start with the heading back to the land of the living souls, metaphorically, sonically, speaking. But it’s not the end yet! With a few more songs to go Hew Time continue on their wildly experimental set of using a studio full of percussive instruments – it’s like everything – including the “kitchen sink”.
Coming next, “Sonny Bambo”, has a more familiar rhythm to it, but this is actually kind of a Latin American kind of groove that is overlaid with the average drum kit, used in jazz or rock, etc. but that is careful to not overtake it with too much rock ‘n roll. Kind of a laid-back jazz-infused, still mystical and very experimental work.
As much as I dig the crunch-fuzz-bluster of The Melvins and the unforgettable Buzz Osborne – their symbiotic unity just blows one away – especially at a live show(!!) – I can’t help but be awe-struck by Hew Time’s experimental foray into an all-star-all-percussive lineup which delves into more than just tricky drum solos, be they jazz-inspired or rocking solos. They delve deep into sounds that evoke the wonders of the psyche, mystical traditions which are still practiced today by serious, devoted followers of this kind belief system which utilizes rituals led by shamans who take the participants, in a trance-state, into a internal voyage, that is terrestrial-bound, but which can take the group far and wide into the deep psychic jungles of their own. Although, I may make it out to seem like this is an anthropology experiment, it isn’t; it’s much more. It’s a looser, sort of no-holds barred escape into the realms of “whatever” and whatever meaning it has for each particular listener, one hopes, will be a pleasant and awakening process.