Perhaps the single lesson that stuck with me the longest, from my art teacher at high school, was the one about artists needing to be honest. At the time it was a zone where my mind was torn between drawing superheroes but also digging into Austrian Expressionism. The lesson was to draw without any kind of style or mannerism. Drawing was to be an enquiry or exploration, but the result wasn’t to be predetermined. It’s always been a theory we have applied to art in general and this sense of art versus something more lightweight or that weird vibe of ‘trying too hard’ or being fixated by the end result.
Jeffrey Alexander and the Heavy Lidders is a wonderful example of a passage of music that simply presents itself like a series of drawings that made the ideas breathe. The whole recording has a roughly sketched air rather than a studio polished rerun that’s somehow had its very essence drained.
Alexander’s music has slowly hit us from various angles in the last few years, his work with endlessly joyous Dire Wolves and more recently, his woozy guitar masterpiece, Reyes finds him at some creative zenith. This time, with the Heavy Lidders in tow, this is the loosest, grooviest band holed up in the smokiest room on the West Coast. The gang peppered with names that we read through with enthusiastic head nods – Jesse Shepherd and Drew Gardner (both of Elkhorn), Scott Verrastro (Kohoutek), Marissa Nadler, Rosali Middleman, Pat Gubler (Garcia Peoples, Wet Tuna), and Ryan Jewell.
The whole album, a suite of ebbing and flowing, as you navigate its 7 tracks, the subtle opener Beowulf’s Trip eventually sweeps you into a blissed out mantra of ‘its universal…’ The second track, a cover of the ‘Deads Black Peter, feels more like a metric of how wacked things actually are here. The light beam swagger of the original, but this time barely able to stand, just creeping forward in the most pleasant way. Are we relaxed yet?
Herb of Grace feels like we finally hit the technicolour button – a shambolic ‘70s radio smash from some parallel zone that got banned at the time as it seems to be about weed. A superb new anthem for the freaks, a soundtrack to summer gardens. Deep Ships in the Forest has a bright folky groove underpinned with gently wobbling organ tones.
Carousel of Flowers opens a whole new layer with vibes rolling around a peeling guitar and shuffling grooves. 6 minutes of tumbling around in a head nodding bliss… The extended 9 minutes stretch of Audubon Trooper grooves in a bubble that floated in from Country Joe’s Section 43 before slowly fire balling into mellow space.
The closer, Strength of Strings, (a Gene Clark cover) has a balmy late-night vibe, that slowly revels in a spiders web of percussion and tabla. At this point you can practically sense that every player’s eyes are closed. A magical drummed rhythm maps out in the stars, trailing to silence, then a beautiful hymnal coda sends you back to earth…
For those of us lucky to be enjoying Summer, Jeffrey Alexander and the Heavy Lidders is a perfect album. Time and time again, the subtle buried gemstones littered at its core – a set of songs worked into forms just structured enough to cradle the beauty within. Ideas best rendered as ragged sketches, rather than some laboured attempt at a masterpiece.
Beautifully honest, genuine and heartfelt, an imperfect perfection.