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The Atomic Bitchwax : 3

The Atomic Bitchwax might rightly be termed a musical gateway drug by many in the community. Back in the early and mid 90s many of us were just getting hooked up with Monster Magnet and Kyuss, when along came T.A.B.'s first album in '99 and we were goners forsure. After all, the group boasted 'Magnet's Ed Mundell on guitar, letting loose like he rarely did with MM.. New Jersey cognoscenti might have added Slaprocket and Godspeed to 'Bitchwax's illustrious pedigree as well. The blinding brilliance of T.A.B.'s 70s-inspired monster jams, with three prime musicians going full tilt in octopus fashion for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, seemed to embody at least one definition of stoner rock, and it was smokin'.

By the time the MeteorCity label's odds n' sods 'Spit Blood' album came out in '02, it looked like 'Bitchwax was calling it a day. A sad day indeed for those of us that listened to them for hours on end, but at least they left a couple of solid albums behind, and there was always bassist Chris Kosnick's new project, Black Nasa, for those that wanted to keep up. 'Nasa emphasized a more structured approach, favoring shorter, well-crafted, 70s-inspired tunes that you might have heard on a progressive underground radio station back in the day.

Enter old 'Bitchwax pal Finn Ryan, guitarist of the fascinating acid jammers Core, an unfortunately underheard - though critically acclaimed - Jersey group that had been silent for years. Ties between T.A.B. and Core went back to the 90s, when 'Bitchwax covered the excellent 'Kiss the Sun,' on their first album, which dated back to Core's criminally obscure proto-stoner/space album from 1996, 'Revival'. With Mundell permanently back in the 'Magnet fold, T.A.B. was now free to mutate, taking into account the group members' collective pasts and current musical preferences.

Kosnick describes the result, '3', as "all the same craziness, but wrapped around actual tunes". Fair enough, though I'd say that at least on disc the songwriting has taken the front seat to the craziness. Then again, T.A.B. were always at their best live. Ryan contributes clean vocal harmonies and concise guitar solos, drummer Keith Ackerman throws down in his patented death-before-decaf speedfreak 'Bitchwax style, while Kosnick sounds more like he did with Black Nasa than he did on the first two T.A.B. albums. The musical staple of the Mundell days, the instrumental, is represented by only one track, and none of the other tracks are over five minutes long. The album starts with 'The Destroyer,' which sounds the most like the 'Bitchwax of old, followed by the speedy 'You Oughta Know,' with its background vocals giving it an almost QOTSA accessibility. 'You Can't Win' is complex, tightly crafted, boasting a concise guitar solo and plenty o' cowbell. The vocal harmonies on 'If I had a Gun' are outstanding, and there's some sly goings-on with the last tune, a freakout called 'Half as Much' with its T.A.B. 'II' and Core samples (get it?).

If you think that the heart of music is a 15-minute jam with each musician giving their sweaty best, you may think that T.A.B.'s best work is behind them, On the other hand, if you conceive of the apotheosis of good rawkin' to be a wonderfully constructed 4-minute tune filled with energy and tight playing, then you're likely to think that '3' is their best album. 'Bitchwax is certainly a more arranged and refined beast than in the days of yore, but still vital and willing to change. In any case, when talent like this gets together, you'd best listen.

Reviewer's rating: Unrated


Tracklist :
1. The Destroyer
2. You Oughta Know
3. You Can't Win
4. Dark Chi
5. Maybe I'm a Leo
6. Force Field
7. Going Guido
8. The Passenger
9. If I Had a Gun
10. Half as Much

Duration : Approx. 39 minutes

Visit the The Atomic Bitchwax bandpage.

Reviewed on ??-??-???? by Kevin McHugh
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