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The People’s Temple - Sons of Stone

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Artist: The People’s Temple

Album: Sons of Stone

Label: Hozac

Review date: May. 27, 2011

The joys — and perils — of reverb could fill a good chapter of any contemporary critique of garage rock. It’s an effect that can make the most ordinary riff sound like it’s setting off rockslides and thunderclaps, that can surround even the most uninspired singer with an aura of glamour. It’s also loaded with connotations, its cavernous tones evoking well-beloved artists of the past (Link Wray in “Rumble,” Roky Erickson in all-out “(I’ve Got) Levitation” mode, and pretty much all of Michael Yonkers’ “Microminiature Love.”) When paired with memorable songs, the use of reverb can be transporting, putting a weird, hyper-intense glare on top of rock’s ache and menace.

Still, you can’t avoid the conclusion that, for some bands (ahem, Woven Bones, cough, Crystal Stilts), the use of reverb has become an end in itself. Having found a cool, ultra-dramatic, echo-laden vibe, they simply stop there. The songs themselves are secondary, gestural. The goal is atmosphere, pure and simple.

The People’s Temple, out of Michigan, use a lot of reverb to make their psych-droning, proto-punkish garage rock, giving nods along the way to 1960s pioneers like Love and 13th Floor Elevators. Yet the good thing, at least on most of these 14 tracks, is that they use it (and other effects) to enhance songs rather than to cover up weaknesses. There are some sketchy efforts early on, where zoom and drone attempt to obscure a thin-ness of melodic imagination (“Visions of the Sun” and “Led As One” ). “StarScreamer,” later on, is a stronger song that nearly succumbs to effects. It sounds like a plausible riff-rocker that’s been trapped in a bug zapper, buzzing and butting against the noise barrier until it finally shorts out. Still, a really superb run of songs in the second half — everything from “Axe-Man” to “Miles Away” — illustrate how the People’s Temple’s wrong-end-of-a-telescope, garage-psych sonics can work. Here, the echo, buzz and hum makes strong material sound even better.

“Axe-Man,” for instance, may swath its bass lines in layers of fuzz, but the echo only adds drama. The disc’s strongest, most memorable melody remains completely accessible throughout, floating above the clatter and crash and drone. “Keeper (Of Souls)” uses reverb to highlight a winding, sitar-envying guitar line and to cast ghostly shadows over wordless vocals — but not to obscure the song itself. That, you could sing in the shower after one play. “Miles Away” revs a hotrod guitar through thrashing, conflicting call and response, the smell of testosterone erupting from lines like, “And then I hit the gas.”

Not all the good songs are toward the end. “Sons of Stone” makes a reasonably strong opening statement of surf and drone principles, while “Where You Wanna Go” is sharp in the guitars and loose in the rhythms, a museum-quality reproduction of early 1960s shamble. Still, the album’s long for its genre at nearly 42 minutes and heavily backloaded. A little cutting up front might have made this a real winner. As it is, Sons of Stone is a very good late-bloomer.

By Jennifer Kelly

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