Lift to Experience

The Texas-Jerusalem Experience (Bella Union)

Only the most jaded music fans could've ignored the full-page review -- more like a white-knuckled hosanna -- that Britain's Uncut offered to Denton, Texas, power trio Lift to Experience a few months ago. Just to recap one of the more evocative passages:

"They walk onstage, unannounced, looking truly frightening. Here is drummer Andy Young, bug-eyed, sweaty, as edgy as Jack Black in Jesus' Son. This is bassist Josh Browning. He's got the build of a Marshall stack and a beard as big as an airfield. And this one with the guitar, he's Josh Pearson. He's about seven feet tall, wears a battered cowboy hat and appears to have some kind of roadkill stapled to his head. They look like they're on their way to audition for parts in a re-make of The Hills Have Eyes. They plug in . . . When they finish, you can see people trying to clear their heads, like a bomb's gone off nearby. Everyone seems to let out their breath at once."

Minus the visuals, that's roughly the reaction a rational person will have to this astonishing debut album. Actually, judging by the group photo, those impressions stand firm; it's a damn visual album in its own right, too. The guys in the rhythm section do not appear like men to be trifled with; stiff either in a meth deal and woe be your immediate family. As for front man Pearson, well, he is in possession of: a fluid, drama-inducing, kissed-by-the-Muses voice that suggests a cross between Jeff Buckley, Jim Morrison and Masters of Reality's Chris Goss; baptismally shrouded lyrics equal parts saint and sinner like Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Mark Lanegan; the songwriting thunder-drone sonic dynamics of Spacemen 3 and early Flaming Lips; and sun-scorched guitar chops like Curt Kirkwood and Neil Young (plus the actual muttonchops of Neil Young -- see "roadkill" reference above).

If that combination sounds unsettlingly apocalyptic, consider that this album begins with the words, "This is the story of three Texas boys/Busy minding their own business/When the Angel of the Lord appeared . . ." (from the psychedelic "Just As Was Told") and closes, in the skree-some death waltz "Into the Storm," amid the prediction, "Headed south for the Promised Land/With gun in hand/When America falls/The world will fall with her/Follow your fate/To the Lone Star State." Clearly, no moon/spoon/June couplets will do for this outfit. Even when Pearson waxes sentimentally, salt pillars topple and Rome gets torched by Sherman's troops; peace-via-apocalypse is the man's stock in trade, as outlined in these lines from "To Guard and to Guide You": "Angels we have heard on high/Sweetly singing o'er the plains/And the mountains in the back/Echoing their joyous strains/To teach the world to sing/In perfect harmony/As for me and my house/We will not go gently." Try singing that in a Coca-Cola commercial.

LTE is nominally a "power trio" (the sleeve legend reads, "Ladies and gentlemen we are playing with one guitar"), but not in the clichéd, boogiecentric sense. Considering the implications of the band name, things get downright evangelical en route to sonic and spiritual release. Darkly violent rawk forays into the stratosphere -- most songs clock in at more than six minutes -- are held aloft by long passages of throbbing, sustained fretboard glissandos, sometimes accompanied by Pearson repeating key lyric lines over and over. His elaborate vocal operatics lend songs an unnatural desperation and brutal heft, so much so that even the less bone-rattling numbers ("These Are the Days," a jogging, melodic, offbeat rocker; "Down With the Prophets," with modal-cum-Delta twang and serpentine fiddle) seem to creak from the weight of foreordination. But most tunes don't even pretend to offer any concessions to pop niceties; "Into the Storm" is 10 minutes' worth of aggression, bridled only at points for dynamic contrast and tension. Think again: release.

Lift to Experience? More like Close Cover Before Striking -- this package is explosive. Or, just to quote Uncut one last time, "Praise the Lord, and pass the fucking ammo."

 
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