ST 37 – High and Inside

To the outsider, the great state of Texas generally brings to mind; images of cowboys, backyard barbecues, and an uncanny magnetism towards propane. From a region defined by it’s inherent conservatism, it seems surprising that one of the United States’ most prolific working psychedelic rock bands comes from the heart of the ranger state, the experimental jam group ST 37. With an expansive discography now spanning across four decades, the band has certainly proven their longevity and dedication to their music. Ringing in a new decade with their trademark lo-fi melange of psychedelic garage rock and jam experimentation, ST 37′s ‘High And Inside’ is a suitable place to start with this band. As with much experimental music however, not all of the risks taken here pay off. ‘High And Inside’ opens with a lot of promise, with the spacey ‘Maroons,’ a mellow track that begs to be compared with early Pink Floyd. Swirling effects and light improvisation over a calm rhythm and some cerebral but warm vocals from bassist Scott Telles gives a very nostalgic psychedelic rock experience that excited me for everything that was to come afterwards. Unfortunately, very few of the other tracks here would share the same level of magic as is heard here, and six minutes into ‘High And Inside,’ it’s biggest highlight is gone and past.

Perhaps ST 37′s greatest weakness is their lack of consistency. While undoubtedly a band of fantastic chemistry and inspiration, (be it in the form of vision or controlled substance, we’ll never know!) far too many of the tracks ultimately feel like they overindulge in their loose, noisy nature and as a result; fail to go anywhere. Such is the case with the second track ‘Grandpa’s Birthday,’ which consists generally of eleven minutes of each member dabbling in his respective instrument, creating a chaotic but unfortunately listless sound.

Things pick up a bit again with ‘The White Commanche,’ which has an undeniable punk vibe to it, which works well with the low fidelity nature of the recording and production. Finishing shortly after it begins however, the album then leads into ‘Borg9,’ which really can’t be summed up any better than as a ‘laugh track.’ Over the six minutes, the band uses a looped sample of laughter, slowly building underneath it, a layer of fuzz. By the end, the laughter has been tweaked to echo and reverberate nearly to the point of sounding like incomprehensible noise. The way the echo and delay use builds up gives them laugh track an increasingly frightening feel to it, simulating the effects of a bad LSD trip, which – as I might expect – is the goal of the band with this experimental loop.

Then comes what could easily be called the most memorable track on the album, although being far from the best. ‘The Saga Of Old Blue’ generally consists of a mellow country twang that affirms the band’s heritage. Played overtop is a narration in a southern drawl, rambling about the misadventures of a Longhorn named ‘Blue.’ While the music in the background is pleasant enough and has a laid-back cheeriness about it, the song is defined by the narration, which while telling a generally uninteresting story about a Longhorn’s journey through frontier America, the hospitable, almost old-timey nature of it really goes to show that despite not sounding like a Texas band at first listen, the culture of their state certainly works it’s way into what they do.

‘Breaking Lines’ is a pretty straightforward hard rock song, sounding a bit like ZZ Top. While the song is a decently written rock song, it could easily have been better with a more polished production; the lo-fi effect may give some style for the more psychedelic moments of ST 37′s work, but it only makes their more rock-oriented material sound rough and noisy. Following the straightforward rock is ‘The Burgeoning,’ which may be the most unnecessary track on the entire album. It essentially follows the same ‘sound experiment’ nature as much of their music, except it goes virtually nowhere in the process. Some weird electronic sounds droning on over an uneventful bass riff certainly doesn’t endear.

After a noisy experimental piece that I would come to expect from the band, comes ‘Just You,’ a very surprising song that ditches a great deal of the dissonance for a ballad in the 1950′s ‘doo-wop’ style. While it is pretty standard of what you might expect a 1950′s rock ballad to sound like, there are some very nice vocal harmonies here and a weird organ lick towards the end that keeps the music sounding a bit quirky and strange.

The last two tracks almost feel to me as if they are connected; I usually don’t realize that there is a new song playing when the tracks switch. This is in no small part due to the fact that while the flow of the album previously had a way of switching between the band’s modes and styles, ‘High And Inside’ closes out with a pair of noise-heavy jams. This does leave the album on a bit of a sour note, because neither track really feels like it goes anywhere, instead feeling quite fuzzy and improvised.

While I do commend ST 37 for their uncompromising nature and their unique, quirky style, it does feel like this psychedelic band does some things a lot better than others. Having not lost a shred of the experimental vibe from their earlier work, the band will certainly polarize psychedelic rock audiences with their raw production, highly improvised performances, and heavy use of electronic sound. ‘High And Inside’ may be about as inconsistent as an album can get, but the album covers an incredible range of sound over the course of an hour. If not a great album, than certainly interesting!

Tracklist:

1. Maroons (6:07)
2. Grandpa’s Birthday (11:39)
3. The White Comanche (2:16)
4. Borg9 (6:52)
5. The Saga Of Old Blue (7:02)
6. Breaking Lines (4:20)
7. The Burgeoning (5:50)
8. Just You (5:58)
9. Pamphlet Of Light (8:19)
10. If You Feel, You’re Healed [Cow Head In The River] (9:48)

Line-up:

* Lisa Cameron – drums, percussives; fan and electronics (4,7), lead vocals (9)
* Joel Crutcher – guitars; lead vocals (3), electronics (4), organ (10)
* Bobby Baker – guitars, synare, backing vocals, organ & crickets (8), tape manipulation (10)
* SL Telles – bass, lead & backing vocals, tapes; electronics (4), tambourine (7)

guest musicians:
* Doug Ferguson – electronics (4,5)
* LeeAnn Cameron – backing vocals (8)
* Angela Begnaud – backing vocals (8)
* Nicole Telles – taped voice (2)
* Susie Vomit – tapes (2)

Links:

ST 37 official website

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