You’ve probably run across at a concert one time or another that either stuns or disappoints. Odds are it’s their recordings that drew you in; an addictive rhythm, heart-tugging lyric or simply sheer curiosity if he or she could pull it off. Mine were The Blood Brothers, Manchester Orchestra and Ani DiFranco. Recordings are the driving force in pulling in attendees, yet Marijuana Deathsquads aren’t typical. They pulled you in first through word-of-mouth. How many members? It varies practically every show. Multiple drummers? What type of music? Didn’t really matter, the enthusiastic attested to the live show experience. When I did have the chance to catch them in a packed, dimly lit Mohawk during SXSW, experience was the most befitting word to describe what ensued. So unlike artists that beckon the question, “Can they reproduce this on stage?” Marijuana Deathsquads reverses it with their first LP, Crazy Master, out on Totally GNP.
Marijuana Deathsquads comprises Ryan Olson (Gayngs, Digitata and more), P.O.S. (Doomtree, Building Better Bombs), Isaac Gale and sometimes Har Mar Superstar. Crazy Master is a full on LP of four songs with the last topping 20 minutes. This circle of friends with releases often coming out via Totally GNP create innovative and challenging music-the 3D musical puzzle kind that attempt to trick you into viewing music differently. Before delving into the debut, take a moment to watch “John Cage Match” to get a glimpse of this visual, musical hypnotism.
It takes less than ten seconds of Relayted-esque guitar strums before the sonic disparity, as if Olson deliberately decided to shed that project as some mocked self-portrait. Marijuana Deathsquads is no soothing, dim-the-lights and lie out on the coach listen as Gayngs was. Stef comes in with a barrage over drums and undulating synth. His hardcore screams and singing, reminiscent of Building Better Bombs, are tossed into processors and spit back out, removing the harsh edges but retaining the essence of urgency. It’s that frenetic energy at the core of “Crazy Master”, akin to how The Blood Brothers made you want to violently dance. Marijuana Deathsquads start off similarly, but elongates it as as a precarious balance between electronic and hardcore.
It’s tough to peg down to a specific genre, and noise doesn’t seem to justify it due to the rhythms that converge into the sounds. “Sex Accident” is spoken lyric over a TV snow-meets-hip-hop beat. But then driven atmospheric drumming takes over the wheel. “Pink Dust” is, by far, the most abstract. The music’s been further deconstructed, stripped of vocals and spiraling seemingly out of control save multiple attempts to coerce a rhythm forth. While the final song, “Sisters of Silence” is the 2011 accompaniment to 2001: A Space Odyssey for nearly the first half with its insistent pulse and ambient airs. The drums break the monotony with their hi-hats, brooding into a strange surreal sonicscape.
First listening sessions may not give credit to what Marijuana Deathsquads are doing, since maybe commentary to this audio may help better figure out what’s going on without the group being directly in front of you on stage. The music has evolved from their Daytrotter session in May, adding more abstract melodies and sounds to their arsenal. I’m intrigued, especially due to “Sex Accident” and “Crazy Master” even if it’s still tough to say where they’re going. I would, however, still opt for their live performance any day of the week.