Big Business grows from a two-piece to a trio with this third album, augmenting the sludgy, low-end, drum and bass buzz of the band’s Here Come the Waterworks sound with a serious melodic turn toward big floating psych riffs and three-part harmonies. Bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis take a big step away from their part-time jobs in the Melvins (and from Warren’s work in Karp) by inviting guitarist Toshi Kasai into the club. The bass may still be an ominous thunder of distortion, the drums a continual, chaotic kit-hopping roll, but the vocals now sound like a weird cross of stadium metal and the Beach Boys.
Consider, for instance, album opener “Found Art,” which begins in widely spaced bursts of drums, the onslaughts running closer together and faster until they merge in one long splatter. The bass, when it comes in, is menacing and indistinct, the kind of riff you feel in your stomach, rather than hear with your ears. And the lyrics, are obscure and vaguely bombastic, dramatic as opera, yet, on examination, a bit empty. “Mind your step / let me be / no need to panic / we’re losing the light / haven’t got shelter / and it’s starting to rain,” sings Warren, as Kasai lets loose a slow, side-winding psych riff between phrases. And then (wait for it), there’s a three-part harmony in the chorus, as band members chime in with the phrase “Wonderful vision” at one-three-five intervals. There’s something Spinal Tap-ish about the reach for grandeur here – not that it’s bad exactly, more that it seems not fully justified by the material.
After “Found Art,” the band backs off the fancy harmonies a bit, settling into the huge-sludgy-prog-metal swagger in “Gold and Final,” lacing the percussive refrain of “Cats, Mice” with Kasai’s eastern-droning psych guitars. “I Got It Online” pits trebly, staccato guitar angst against an adrenaline-pumped stoner beat, rattling off all the things – jocks, narcs, creeps, nerds, etc. – that bother Warren. It’s not an ambitious song and nothing in it really challenges assumptions, but it rocks and it’s fun and it would sound all right coming out of a top-down Mustang convertible. Similarly, “The Drift” keeps things block simple and heavy, lyrics shouted over a monolithic four-four beat, and only flowering occasionally, at the end of certain phrases, into lavish harmonies.
The disc ends with the biggest reach of all, the nearly nine-minute “Theme from Big Business II,” erupting out of smouldery, slow-turning riffs and hard ritual drums. About mid-way through, an elaborate, multi-parted vocal arrangement emerges out of the sludge, its tight harmonies and complicated counterparts arriving like a misplaced madrigal choir, singing bravely on even as its members realize that this is not the Renaissance Faire after all. I’m all for ambition and trying new things, but my guess is that “metal + choral” overload only works about once a century, and we’ve already had “Bohemian Rhapsody,” haven’t we?