Stoney Spring has a new album. It is their second. Their first album bespoke of a future that ain’t too bright. Songs like “New Blood” and “Jobs” decried the pervasive role capitalism plays in our lives. They addressed our willing complicity to be defined by what we buy and how we look. They did all of that with a great beat behind it.
For those who don’t know this band, the members come from the uniquely transcendent LA rock band I See Hawks in LA, and Sly and the Family Stone. Their music veers to the rocking side of things: short tunes with a great rhythm section, energetic vocals and succinct, biting lyrics. Although firmly embedded in the discipline of rock, there is no singular take on what that means on this disc. The tunes evoke a variety of experiences; from the solitude of an early morning drive through an LA canyon before there are a million cars on the road to the pounding and incessant noise simultaneously in the background and in your face when you’re waiting at a traffic light as a pedestrian in the heart of LA. Modern cable TV looping hysterical news across the bottom of the screen and bible stories told by a sacrilegious preacher; the satanic choir on an IPod.
Instrumentally, this band does not fail. Most of the members are multi-instrumentalists, although this time around Paul Lacques sticks with the lap steel, and only Rob Waller’s vocals are on display. Anthony Lacques plays a multitude of instruments, including piano, marimba, and drums. Bass duties are shared by Sly and the Family Stone’s Jimi Hawes and the bassist Marc Doten. In what can certainly termed positive growth, the works on this effort feature more stringed instruments than I remember from the group’s debut. Suffice it to say, this is a good thing.
Last time I reviewed a Stoney Spring album was in 2014. Titled Right On Heliotrope!, it was their debut effort and featured the current lineup. I see this band as an urban counterpart to the Lacques-Waller crew’s other project I See Hawks in LA. Instead of the beach sand of Venice, there is the asphalt of the 405; instead of the green of the redwoods there is the dusty air of the East LA hills; instead of a certain hippie mellowness found in the tremendous and intricate guitar work of I See Hawks in LA there is a melodic strum to match some of the best drumming and percussion this side of Bill Kreutzmann.
The song “Swimming Class” opens this disc and sets the tone with a melodic California drum circle. Indeed, the overriding sense of this album is rhythm; rhythm with melodic enhancements that are percussive themselves. It is a unique sound that is simultaneously simple in the way a religious chant is and complex in the manner of a McCoy Tyner piano solo.
I went back to California for a visit this past summer. I remembered in my body and my soul the openness of its atmosphere (when the pollution is low, that is). This album, like almost every work from the core members of this band, creates a similar atmosphere to that California essence myself remembered. Of course, it is thirty years since I lived in the golden state and things have turned a bit ugly. This disc reflects that. The Hotel California rents by the hour now. The swimming pool is never cleaned and the cocaine is now crack.
Lyrically, Don’t Let Me Die at Coco’s is like a Jackson Pollock painting. Words, like Pollock’s paint, seem to be randomly splashed on the page. Yet, they create images and imagery that question beliefs and ridicule roles modern humanity in the neoliberal wasteland have assumed. The subjects of Hieronymus Bosch would feel at home and there’s a feeling the apocalypse is around the corner. The rivers are running dry; the oil wells are still sucking the beach’s lifeblood from underneath the baking bodies of surfers, teenagers, and matrons alike. Walt Disney’s World is a sham but most visitors pretend not to notice. I don’t know if you can’t ever leave, but a closer truth is you may be damaged beyond repair when you do. Like very early Little Feat or certain Captain Beefheart songs, what appear as ramblings to the linear thinker are actually stream-of-consciousness poems inspired by a muse too few of us have met. The poems paint pictures of a reality most people never conceived. It took me a few listens to get into the groove that is this piece of art. Now, it’s in my ear almost every day.
Don’t Let Me Die at Coco’s is a delightful, eclectic and righteous effort by the musical crew called Stoney Spring. California music for the twenty-first century. Give it a spin