Feast your eyes on that cover! There be breasts, beasts and planetary bodies. If there was ever a piece of truly van worthy art, this is that thing. As impressive as the art is, this here is a music review site, or so I’ve been told. That requires me to delve into the sounds Mothership deliver on their third album of 70s influenced stoner rock curiously titled High Strangeness. As with almost all stoner endeavors, the Black Sabbath markers are plentiful and easy to follow, and Mothership makes a scant effort to conceal their main influence. They do take pains to rock things up considerably, including copious nods to stoner luminaries like Orange Goblin, Spiritual Beggars and Kyuss. Unfortunately, these wildcats aren’t in the same league as those bigger outfits, but fear not, everything is not yet lost.
Things open with one of the album’s best moments courtesy of the instrumental title track. It’s moody, but rocking and jamming like all the best 70s influenced stoneage should be. It has the moods, it has free-flowing guitar jams and most importantly, that big time 70s vibe. “Ride the Sun” capitalizes on the good will of its predecessor with straight forward fuzzed-out rock akin to what Spiritual Beggars delivered on their last two albums, and there’s a fair amount of Fu Manchu influence as well. It’s simple as hell but infectious and easy to like with a bunch of tasty riffs and hooks. The extended jam at 2:40 is another standout moment and the guitar-bass interplay is straight from the classic Sabbath albums. Really solid stuff.
Another highlight is “Eternal Trip,” which is an outlier here, sounding nothing like the rest of the album. Instead it goes for a strange, dreamy alt-rock soundscape not unlike This Will Destroy You and their work on the soundtrack to Friday Night Lights. It’s a beautiful little instrumental and one I find myself returning to often.
Unfortunately, the rest of High Strangeness is not up to the snuff established on the better moments. Much of the remainder plays out like overly simplistic stoner rock without much to stick in your mental crawlspaces. Some cuts just rumble along hoping to find a workable groove and ride it to glory, but it doesn’t work out for them. Instead. “Midnight Express” sounds like a Cathedral reject with no energy or vigor and “Helter Skelter,” though better, sounds like dumbed down Kyuss sans the charm.
At a meager 33 minutes, it all goes by fast and that makes the shortcomings feel more palatable and manageable. Most of the songs are fairly short and tightly written which also helps. The production suits the music well enough and the guitars have an authentic 70s sound with plenty of fuzz and grit. The highest dynamic moments are reserved for “Eternal Trip,” which makes good sense, though it’s a pity the rest of the album didn’t get the same upgrade.
It’s no surprise the guitar-work does all the selling and closing. The vocals by both Kyle and Kells Juett are adequate but unremarkable, so it’s all the more crucial that brother Kells provides the listener with something to focus on, which he does admirably. He’s quite talented and manages to flash some premium chops over the course of the album, elevating even the weakest songs with his bluesy swagger and scintillating solos. Kyle’s bass-work is also worth noting, coming from the Geezer Butler school of badassery. He does his part to juice up the trio’s sound, as does Judge Smith on drums.
Ultimately High Strangeness is a mixed bag of inspired moments and generic stoner rock, with a lot of obvious potential but only some of it realized. There are some winning songs here I will happily cherry pick, but too little of it sticks once it’s done. Here’s hoping next time we get more than a few cool cuts and a pretty face. A.B.C. – Always. Be. Closing.