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VALIS : Head Full of Pills

Ever since VALIS (that's Vast Active Living Intelligence System) burst into my consciousness with their eponymous debut full-length a couple of years ago, I've thought of them as one of the most unique bands in the whole stoner/doom world, if indeed that's where you want to put them. Van Conner was my contact point with the band, and I figured that any group which sported an ex member of the interesting hard psych group Solomon Grundy, not to mention a member of the early QOTSA sessions, was worth a listen. Which was absolutely true. The group also included the talents of younger bro Patrick, not to mention ex-TAD Kurt Danielson. They combined their Washington state 80s and 90s backgrounds with a love of Hawkwind and 'Sabbath, a warped pop sensibility and a boatload of drugs to create a musical entity that owed nothing at all to Kyuss, despite Van's interaction with Josh Homme.

That debut turned on a lot of people to the fact that there were still good underground musicians soldiering on in the post-Cobain Washington state community, and some of them were even more interesting than Chris Cornell! Heh. From what I could tell, VALIS altered the consciousness of all that heard them, and rightfully so. Their new album, 'Head Full of Pills', continues this true stoner tradition, with a few minor changes. For one, the album seems more stoner rock than the first one. The songs seem heavier, but also a bit more "song-like" in their arrangement, if you know what I mean. Just a tad more "finished." For another, producer Wes Weresch has now joined the band, playing "trip," which means he's playing with VALIS in much the same way that Eno played on the first two Roxy Music albums. He was on the first album, mind you, but he seems more integral to this one. Sean Hollister is still in the pocket on drums, while ex-Kitty Kitty Adrian Makins has replaced the now-departed Danielson.

'Welcome to Homeschool' starts the album in a rawkin' fashion, though I have to say that the handclaps lend a rather unwelcome 80s glam touch to an otherwise OK tune. The album really gets going with the Hawkwind-ish 'Voyager' before warping out with the "I love Candy" R & B stylings of 'Humanzee', which slows down and finally implodes, leading to the stoner crunch of 'Motorbike'. 'World of Decay' is a mid-70s-style 'Sabbathy churner, and 'Perpetual Motion Machine' returns to the territory of their beloved Hawkwind, and is IMO the best song on the album.

If you're wondering where to start with VALIS, I'd recommend the first album, which to me has the more inspired songwriting. If you like what you hear, then by all means step up to 'Head Full of Pills'. It’s got enough in common with the first album that you'll be more than glad you did. Whether you feel that 'Head...' is a step up or a step down from their previous effort depends in large part on how you feel about some of the changes I outlined above. Personally, I feel that you'll be well rewarded to give it a listen. It’s a grower! And don't forget your bong, 'hear?

Reviewer's rating: Unrated


Tracklist :
1. Welcome to Homeschool
2. Head Full of Pills
3. Voyager
4. Humanzee
5. Motorbike
6. We Got a Situation
7. Across the Sky
8. Ape Canyon
9. World of Decay
10. Perpetual Motion Machine
11. More Moke

Duration : Approx. 41 minutes.

Visit the VALIS bandpage.

Reviewed on ??-??-???? by Kevin McHugh
Forever Autumn
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