What does it mean for an album to be memorable? Usually we consider it a good thing, as a good hook that sticks with you can prolong the enjoyability of a record, sticking with you even beyond your listening sessions. But shitty third-tier pop music often keeps inadvertently muscling its way into your brain, especially for those who are forced to listen to the tripe during work hours (trust me, I’ve been there.) Conversely, some powerful music may not have a high memorability, particularly when it’s of the atonal or atmospheric proclivity. The latter is decidedly not what Morass of Molasses are attempting, though. Mixing sludgy stoner fuzz with bluesy progressive rock, the trio are dropping their debut The Ties That Bind amidst a psychedelic cloud of mushroom spores. Can these Brits make something that lasts in the lobes?
On the sludge side of things, there’s plenty to enjoy. Opener proper “Woe Betide” kicks off with a pretty sweet, thick riff with a blues-infused swing. “Death of All” steps up further with a stop-start locomotive flow. The guitars have a burly, classic fuzz, utilizing plenty of string bending and whammy bar abuse, adding a touch of NOLA charm. The drums are solid, largely understated rather than overplayed, and the bass rumbles with a sweet, molasses-thick sound. “Persona Non Grata” is likely the most solid track on the album, featuring ominous, drum-heavy verses and effective riffs that hit in waves throughout the chorus. The vocals by Bones the Beard aren’t quite as strong; the clean passages lack dynamics and conviction, and the slightly nasal sludge screams suffer from his inability to sustain his screams, making climactic notes fall flat. But his timbre is not unpleasant and he doesn’t represent a significant flaw.
However, even accepting the small vocal issues, there are bigger problems with this otherwise fairly tasty southern sludge. The flow is regularly interrupted with more acoustic-oriented passages, or even entire tracks, and without fail they cost the album momentum and energy and give nothing in return, save perhaps a sense of contrast. These passages are frequent and lengthy, but they never seem to go anywhere, merely placing the album in suspended animation for their duration. Usually, I support such attempts at dynamic constructions and variations in mood and intensity, but there’s a clear difference in the songwriting level, leading me to exasperation when a good riff is cast aside in favor of several minutes of nothing at all. Not even experiments with embellishments such as a flute can help there, and I’ve loved flutes in rock ever since growing up on Jethro Tull.
It makes for a frustrating album, whose good and bad sides seem determined to balance each other exactly. Even the good has a bad note (the vocals) and the bad has a good note (the aimless quietude on “In Our Sacred Skin” segues quite wonderfully into an enticing blues solo.) The production, however, is all good. Rich notes, a dynamic master, warm bass with a hint of fuzz and excellent mixing, it’s the sole area where I have not a single complaint. But it doesn’t make up for the unsatisfactory experience the album delivers as a whole. The tracklist attempts a last bid to win me over with an initially lovely, morose ballad duet as a finisher. But it, too, misses a sense of development too much to sustain itself, and thus leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
All in all, The Ties That Bind is not a bad album, nor is it a good album. It’s an album with some nice ideas, of which the execution is pretty mixed, and not a lot of direction. It features competent musicians who don’t always seem to know where they’re heading, and a solid production that can’t pull the listless proggy detours off the ground. More than anything, it’s an album that, for all its myriad riffs and bluesy hooks, is simply unmemorable. Some passages may stick for a while, but the album as a whole falls flat and predominantly leaves an impression of emptiness. Whether Morass of Molasses can acquire such a vital yet nebulous characteristic on the next go-round, we will see, but unfortunately, they are not there yet with The Ties That Bind.