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Major Stars - 4

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Artist: Major Stars

Album: 4

Label: Twisted Village

Review date: May. 15, 2005

The resume of Major Stars Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar reads like a gumdrop trail of the finer mind-altering substances along the margins of independent music over the last two decades. From 1983 through the early ’90s, Rogers went against the grain of popular notions to record a series of private-press psychedelic rock album that fused acid flashback pop stomp with progressive-strength riff rock freakouts. The five album span of this project, entitled Crystalized Movements, retains a glacial garage regality; satisfying noodlings of overamped fuzz and charging rock rhythms tied to a rigid pop framework that makes his high-gear psychotic reactions all the more notable. (For all-in-the-red lysergic hometape fuckery, his side-projects Vermonster, Wormdoom, Heathen Shame, and Bongloads of Righteous Boo have never failed to qualify).

The introduction of Biggar to the Movements in the late ’80s has been one of the few constants in any of Rogers’ lineups, and their dual lead guitar attack is a searing metaphor for their partnership, lashed together by a passion for the music and the nanoindustry surrounding it. Their record label, Twisted Village, is a watershed for their own projects, as well as a launching pad for solo works by Brother JT, the Luxurious Bags, Gate, and NYC guitar deity Bob Bannister. The label spawned a record shop of the same name in Cambridge, MA that’s widely recognized as one of the best-curated, rarity-filled specialty stores the world over for psych, free jazz and other delicacies.

One notable quality of this pair’s music since the dissolution of Crystalized Movements is a significant air of formalism. They work out a sound or a concept, a mode of play (structured, song-based material or free improvisation), a mood to capture, and other musicians to bring into the fray, and then affix the appropriate name to it in a reassuring burst of onomatopieia. Considering you’re attuned to the output of these folks, then it’s all in a name: Magic Hour was a somewhat plaintive, more subtle rumination on the edges of folk-psych; Vermonster was a mushroom-eating, seven-headed guitarmy, waging war into two million scoops of death by chocolate; Heathen Shame covers up the hairy knuckles it drags against apocalyptic noise, and so on. These projects might have the same players running through their own equipment to generate a sound you’ve heard on other Twisted Village releases, but the intent is clearly staked out for each project, making each solo record or project somewhat like rolling a whole army of D&D characters to suit each campaign you’d face. Therefore, those who seek out a record on Twisted Village pretty much can expect that it is what it is.

So Major Stars’ latest 4 contains, unsurprisingly, four songs. Almost every Stars release has followed this paradigm, so maybe that’s not significant. Rest assured that you’ll find two short tracks and two long-form works on each of their records, give or take one song. And as the big, confident nature of their namesake might reveal, expect the band to be focused on thickening their brand of psychedelia with lots of power moves and a denser palette of sound. Opener “How to Be” pushes out of the gate with the languorous, down-shifting energy and sleepytime vocalisms of classic Dinosaur Jr, but with more expressive solos of higher thread count and more luxuriance replacing the furor of post-hardcore landgrabs. The track is a prime example of how Biggar and Rogers solo like both sides of the same coin; they weave in and out of one another, speak the same language to the point where they finish one another’s sentences. The 15-minute epic “Phantom #1” follows suit with a theme from “Elephant” (from their last album Distant Effects) – namely, hanging a majestically heavy riff as sturdy as Wolverine’s adamantium exoskeleton as the backdrop for a lengthy exploration of crushingly heavy melodic psych-rock. Throughout, the rhythm section holds their own, adding the requisite crunch to play off as foils to Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang’s more meditative lockdowns for Magic Hour.

This is all fine and good, until you come to accept that the Major Stars have only made modest refinements to their sound over their last five releases, and continue to release the same type of album over and over. Is it broken? Hell no. Don’t fix it? That can’t hold – it may be due for an overhaul sooner than later. Still, given the rarity of artists making music that sounds so consistent might just mean that they’ve had the right tools in the box at any given time over the past 20 years. And if anything gets stale, they’ll just start a new band.

Perhaps it all has something to do with Rogers and Co. making the records they always thought should exist in the psychedelic canon. And that may be all the belief that’s necessary to keep one’s head and musical career straight alongside that laced trail of candies anyway.

By Doug Mosurock

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