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Major Stars - Distant Effects

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Artist: Major Stars

Album: Distant Effects

Label: Squealer

Review date: Aug. 15, 2002

Majestic Rock Chaos

Following their stint in the marvelous Magic Hour, guitarists Wayne Rogers and Kate Village (also proprietors of the ultra-fine store/label Twisted Village) embarked on a "Rock Revival" -- as they titled a previous Major Stars record. Considering this means that their guitar slinging gets to freak out even more, everyone should applaud their endeavor. Together with rhythm section Tom Leonard and Dave Lynch, Major Stars have spelunked into the depths of psychedelicized hard rock and through several albums continue to bring up gems. Though the sum of the parts is definitely what counts here, I can't help but claim that Wayne's wah-abusing leads are among the best out there when it comes to tasteful, joyful chaos. Hendrix would be proud, as are those of us who have seen -- well, heard -- the light.

Distant Effects, their finest half-hour yet, opens with "No Higher Meaning", a 4-minute piece of melodic drone rock. It possesses an unusual mix, with Wayne's vocals drifting pretty high while the dense guitars churn in the background. This one actually sounds more like Magic Hour than most recent Major Stars songs have, which is no bad thing. "Hardly Mention" follows, alternating calm, pretty verses with breaks that rock significantly harder, letting the guitars squeal while the rhythm section stops-and-starts in fine fashion.

"Are We" initially feels like a sad ode to life itself, but it's uplifted by a sheer joy that kicks in following the vocals -- it's clear that the band is having such a blast that nothing could be all that bad. The lead guitar scrambles for release, among other things, demonstrating that one can play really fast without losing the point. Wayne goes completely bonkers -- in a good way -- and lets loose with flurries of notes that stay together somehow, maintaining a firm melodic sense even as it all threatens to break apart into utter insanity.

The last song, "Elephant", is the epic here. Fifteen minutes of majestic psychedelic rock rollercoastering from placid verses towards an ever-growing, pulsating conclusion of droning guitars. As the end nears, suddenly we're left with nothing but guitar tones droning and buzzing, somehow not exactly feeding back. The overtones are quite hallucinatory if you're into that sort of thing. Which you should be.

Thoughout, the band keeps a firm balance, perhaps one part dreamy vocals to three parts instrumental frenzy: a recipe which is certainly perfect for my palate. The songs rest on Wayne's vocals during the lulls, letting the songs reach for the stars (so to speak) the rest of the time. No matter how chaotic it all seems during the high points, there's always a solid place in which to return, and it's that control that makes the songs stick together. The band's got a rare combination of power and self-restraint, perfectly balanced.

My only possible complaint here has nothing to do with the songs. It's just that I would have liked to hear the guitars stronger in the mix -- the recording doesn't quite satisfy my desire to hear all of the nuances and overtones that I can feel during the band's live shows. Nonetheless, it's certainly good enough to communicate the songs’ power and assurance, so this is a relatively minor nitpick. And while some might argue that the album is too short, I really do prefer erring on the side of brevity. I'd rather be left wanting more than what usually happens, which is that I get about 50 minutes through a 70 minute album, and turn it off. Distant Effects is 34 minutes of solid, superb quality, which is the way it should be.

By Mason Jones

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