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Reviewed by Greg M. Schwartz
Originally from Georgia, most of the band has lived in the Santa Cruz area since 2000. The band’s sound layers live instruments with electronic samples over pulsing bass, driving drums and an array of dizzying effects. But unlike so much electronic music, which becomes mind-numbingly repetitive due to the monotonous effect of sampled beats, STS9 features one of the best drummers on the planet in Zach Velmer and a percussionist in Jeffree Lerner who makes Velmer sound like he has four arms.
Velmer has long been the band’s driving force, frequently functioning as the lead instrument and forming a compelling rhythm section with bassist David Murphy. Yet his playing here is diverse, as the band paints a variety of sonic landscapes. As with any jam-oriented outfit, the albums are never going to be able to match the heights of the extended improvs that take place live. But Peaceblaster is full of deep grooves that do justice to that live energy. And while the songs are instrumental, there’s a definitive socially conscious vibe throughout. The band has long been known for this, as well as their interest in the metaphysical world of quartz crystals and the Mayan calendar, but Peaceblaster brings it out more than ever.
“Music measures the temperature of the people,” says guitarist Hunter Brown. “Consumerism and the corporate media have taken us all down the path of cynicism, apathy and nihilism. If the message on the new record is anything, it’s to blast that shit.”
“Peaceblaster ‘68” launches the first volley with Velmer’s big beat paving the way, while keyboardist David Phipps throws down an array of psychedelia over samples and grooves that are flashing all over, before giving way to the more futuristic sounding “Peaceblaster ’08.”
“Metameme” finds Velmer in top form, with Lerner adding sublime percussion behind him. Phipps and Brown dazzle with a variety of riffs and tones, without ever really taking definitive leads. This gets at the band’s collective group vibe, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It also gets at why the band’s grooves have such a transcendent effect on their loyal audience.
“Shock Doctrine” finds Phipps throwing down a trippy and somewhat spooky foundation for the rest of the band to play over. The title alludes to journalist Naomi Klein’s book of the same name about “disaster capitalism.” Some phat bass samples pump the groove up while all kinds of psychedelic layering takes place on top.
“Beyond Right Now” is a barnburner, with Brown’s guitar taking a bluesier and more prominent role than the atmospherics he’s frequently known for. Able to shred with the best when he wants to, Brown displays a musical maturity that many guitarists never attain, always playing for the collective rather than the self. “Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist” is another centerpiece track with all the instruments coming together in a monster groove that demands the body move.
The album takes on a more atmospheric vibe toward the end, including the band’s first vocals on an album as Murphy sings “We’ll find our way under the moon and the stars,” in the trippy cut “The Last 50,000 Years.” “Oh Little Brain” comes back to deliver one of the band’s trademark feel-good jams. The album closes with a sound bite from a student graduate speaker who says “stop hoping for action and be action.”
This plea epitomizes the band’s activist vibe. They’ve also launched an informational site that includes things like the Bill of Rights, links to alternative media outlets, and Brown’s savvy book recommendations. For music lovers who like to support a band that that not only talks the talk but walks the walk (not to mention being superb musicians), Peaceblaster is one of the best buys of the year.