Kiss the Dirt by The Space Merchants

Release date: May 5, 2018
Label: Aqualamb Records

“Somewhere between the astral plane and the sticky floors of a biker bar—that’s the sonic zone inhabited by Kiss the Dirt.” So, goes the album’s description on the band’s Bandcamp page and I can’t help but agree. The Space Merchants’ Kiss the Dirt straddles the stuff you like about psych, blues, acid and 70’s era hard rock, all the stuff your dad still listens to, while retaining modern era sound and complexity.

It’s a deceptively fun album. Deceptively, because while the guitars and vocals are a bit of a throwback to the time of bell-bottom jeans, jackets with tassels and flowers in your headband, the lyrical themes are dark as shit. Much of the album is about death. Death, suicide, rituals about death, transcending to some other plane that isn’t this one, the temporary nature of our existence, wanting to make this world hurt, suffer…oh, and, of course, rebirth. To be clear, that’s also why we here at E&D like the album. That, and its f’n awesome. The themes are influenced by guitarist and singer, Mike Guggino’s experience with his mother’s protracted battle with cancer.

These themes are delivered in the most pleasing manner, though. The music is spacy and groove oriented topped by clean, focused melodies. Mike shares singing duties with Ani Monteleone who’s voice is refreshingly direct. Both sound great, apart or together. If you mixed Cream with the psychedelia of The Black Angels and the danceability of the Dandy Warhals, you’d get the picture of the band’s sound; guitar based rock, excellent singing voices, and tight song structures.

There is also a radio sensibility to the album. This sensibility is partly due to the band having recorded with James Brown (the producer, not the Soul King), who’d also help bands like Spoon and Nine Inch Nails produces some of their best work. He’s a master of hooks. This is good and bad. On one hand, it’s nice that the songs are tight, melody driven and don’t overstay their welcome. On the other hand, there are several songs that feel like they are just getting going and then, over. To be sure, my instincts in this department can be attributed to the fact that I am writing for site that predominantly covers indulgent post-rock and metal (ahem!), and so may not be entirely representative of wider audiences.

While there is not a bad track on the album, for me ‘All the Love’ is the best representation of the band’s capability. The song begins with a growling bass/drum groove soon complimented guitar chunk. Ani delivers steady, if not haunting, lead vocals, sounding like an alto Donna Summer. And then they just go crazy. The song breaks down into several minutes of jam and guitar solo. Perfect; one of the best guitar solos I’ve heard since Billy Squire.

Overall, the album is highly enjoyable and stands up to repeat listens. Its snarky and fun, but also deeply personal and moving. The musicianship is excellent, it has good grooves, hooks and melody. I like this album a lot.

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