splendid > reviews > 10/26/2005
The Gris Gris
The Gris Gris
For the Season

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Ecks Em Eye"

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Not only mind-expanding, but mind-demanding, For the Season borrows heavily from psychedelic rock, adding tidbits of folk, free jazz and thick swamp blues along the way. Head Gris Gris Greg Ashley can readily write a hook, but he swathes his catchy chord progressions and slightly demented choruses in a thick blanket of hazy noise, resulting in anything but an easy listen. But hang in there -- an attentive listen to The Gris Gris has its rewards.

It's not easy to categorize The Gris Gris, and quite frankly, you have no reason to. In the era of readily marketable music and download-ready tracks, it's great to hear a band that defies easy categorization, creating aggressively exploratory music that eschews genre compliance for something quite out of the ordinary. Apparently the psychedelics have taken hold of Texan expat turned Californian Ashley, wrapping their pharmacologically tainted hands around his grey matter and twisting it like a wet washcloth. The stream of viscous matter that drips from the terrycloth suggests Sonic Youth backing Roky Erickson for a hallucinatory three-day set.

It's best to skip ahead a few tracks to get a real taste for The Gris Gris. "Big Engine Nazi Kid Daydream" immediately dunks your head into a shallow pool of feedback. Just as you're gasping for breath, the band yanks your head up and a unified chorus of voices forces the life back into you. A gently played acoustic guitar accompanies Ashley's lazy storytelling, but is eventually consumed by another monstrous blast of feedback and hectic piano. The tune's successor, "Year Zero", includes spacy vocals that barely top the noisy wash of Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz, but there's something concrete and endearing to the unexpected twists, turns and changes that occur throughout the six minute tune.

Once you get comfortable with The Gris Gris, "Ecks Em Eye" is worth a spin. The psyche-rock vibe is gone, replaced by a shrieking saxophone that spells out free jazz with every energetically blown note. The track's raucous rumblings take turns with a simple marching beat and chanted vocals that sound like something the late Sun Ra's extra-chromosome-carrying brother would have orchestrated. It's intense stuff; several rounds of fiery noise are directed at you with obvious intent to harm. "The Non-Stop Tape" may further enhance the mystery around Greg Ashley's convoluted brain: a wash of hissing loops, a tuneless percussive triangle and rickety squelches squirm about in this experimental space-rock Petri dish.

It isn't all ear-damaging. "Medication #4"'s churchy organ and warmly sung vocals could pass for a bedtime lullaby. Well, sort of. A bluesy, overdriven guitar wails about mid-way through, interrupting, but never destroying, the fragile mood. "Mademoiselle of the Morning" is similar in song structure, with Ashley's hickishly accented voice waltzing over an accordion, clarinet and briskly strummed mandolin. It's about as simple and straightforward as The Gris Gris ever gets.

Some may call it scatterbrained, discombobulated or even sloppily performed, but there's something soothing about this dizzying musical whirlwind -- or perhaps For the Season is just so provocative that you're still wondering what the hell hit you. The Gris Gris won't satisfy everyone, but for listeners who find spiritual satisfaction in Ashley's words, it's safe to say that the second coming is now.



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