I’ve never been to Vermont, but there must be something in its melted snow that makes the place just right for a certain sort of “turn your back on Nixon’s mess” self-release. It’s escapism as a life plan, and when you consider how American reality feels as we deal with leaving the 20th century by trying to make the 21st work like the 19th, one must ask, who’s the fool? I’m not pointing any fingers at all, and I am paying close attention as Matt Valentine and Erika Elder head ever deeper into the green, green mountains.
Fuzzweed is, as you would expect from the name, a conscientiously baked addition to an exceptionally herb-enriched discography, and a historically minded one to boot. The descended-from-Zuma LP sleeve won’t dispel the usual comparisons to Neil Young that Matt Valentine earns every time he opens his mouth, but the lazy acoustic rhythms and swirling vocal harmonies on “Trailer Trash” are at least as reminiscent of David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, and the country and eastern guitar licks on opener “Environs” tickle the part of my brain that still remembers what Jerry Garcia sounded like on Blows Against the Empire, 30-plus years after I sold the thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that…
The four songs on side one of Fuzzweed exude an aura of lazy, untroubled disregard, but they are songs nonetheless. Verses resolve into choruses, tunes meander but find their way home, and the lyrical themes of escape never pry loose from the chassis of rhythmic purpose that Valentine, Erika Elder, and their posse of perpetually holding pals need to ride out to the woods, where a body doesn’t have to look over their shoulder. Flip the record over and a wilder ride awaits you. Elder’s shyly sung rendition of the blues song “Poor Boy” submerges into an ocean of murky guitars like a puckish porpoise, but the waters soon part for a great whale of panned wah-wah licks, scattered drumming, anomalous drum-machine skitters, and mounting feedback singing to you siren-like from the shelf where you keep your headphones. Put ‘em on and you might not wake up until after our government has drowned the USPS in the bathtub. Say, did you know that in 1970, the year that Kantner and Slick recorded Blows Against the Empire, a first class stamp cost 6 cents?
Back then, a Canned Heat blues lick seemed like a pretty viable way to open a record, and MV + EE do it again on the bonus CD, Fantasy Set, which is tucked into early copies of Fuzzweed. It starts out choogling, but soon enough settles into alternations between Crazy Horse lumber and Grateful Dead flow, with plenty of spiraling guitar licks wheeling round and round like mildly curious raptors. It was compiled from a month-long residency at the now-shuttered Brooklyn club Zebulon, which featured plenty of guest spots by fellow travelers like P.G. Six and Jeremy Earl. Even in the heart of the city, an aura of outward bound, early ’70s tune-out enshrouds the proceedings.