Lionize - Superczar and the Vulture
Record Label: Pentimento Music Company
Release Date: December 6, 2011
When you sit down to listen to Lionize's latest release, Superczar and the Vulture, you may not know that you are coming upon the intersection of several, typically unrelated, musical planes. As you come upon this subcultural anomaly, it may take a few minutes to completely understand what is happening. You may at one point be walking down across an arid dessert of lurching stoner metal, then suddenly find yourself stepping into a lush field of reggae grooves. You may go quickly from a brassy Southern rock concert in the mid-70s to a smoky blues dive bar in the modern day. Aboard the astral vehicle that is Lionize, maneuvering between these realms is a common occurrence.
So how can album that shifts between and blends so many genres be as cohesive as Superczar? The answer lies in what those styles all have in common. Lionize is a jam band. Plain and simple. So when the four-piece DC ensemble moves from blunt, distorted power riffs into a dark brand of reggae, it seems to happen naturally. If it were not for the timely pace of the songs, one might think they were improvising. And that's not a bad thing.
Thusly armed with the ability to smoothly transition between unlikely musical neighbors, Lionize sets off on a journey to that planar intersection of which we spoke. There, we find a number of songs that each make use of the unusual place on the spectrum where they lie. We get different resulting feels, such as the instrumental reggae track "Self Propelled Experience Approximator", which eventually builds to a heavier peak. Then there's "Black Cat", which masterfully bridges the blues and reggae influences. And the emphatically Southern "Parlor Tricks", complete with horn-backed chorus. The brass is present on several tracks, but so perfect here. And of course, plenty of riffy jams -- see "Flying With Vultures", "Dr. Livingston", and the appropriately titled "Walking Away (From Explosions Unscathed)". In an interesting step taken in the writing of this album, several of the tracks segue into one another, so at times it feels like you're listening to one long piece. The songs are distinct from one another, but Lionize transitions us so smoothly from one to the next that it may take a moment before full recognition of the change.
Throughout the journey, singer Nate Bergman -- who also plays guitar in the band -- belts his often bizarre lines with rigor and plenty of soul. His gritty, yet smooth voice sounds well-suited for old fashioned Southern rock. He's effective through the calm sections. But when the music gets intense, he becomes the most powerful force on the track.
Another part of what helps the flow of the music between one style and another is the use of organ throughout the album. The instrument, played by keyboardist Chris Brooks, is a factor common to reggae and blues, both of which play a strong part in the album's soundscape. Brooks uses this as a stepping stone to wherever the band decides to take us.
One consistent strength of the album is the drumming. As a musician, Mel Randolph uses beats that seem to develop naturally from the songs as written, but is never complacent to remain in the background. Each track features beats perfectly contoured to the rhythms of the song and accentuated with fills wherever he can find a place for them. Of course a fair share of the credit for the sound of the drums on this album goes to producer J. Robbins, because Randolph sounds brilliant in the mix.
After having shown us this strange musical meeting place, Lionize leaves us with a dirty riff and one last ringing organ chord, then they're gone. As the listener withdraws back to conventional music reality, he wonders: what else might Lionize have to show us? Where will they take us next time? And one can only hope that the next time around will be just as fresh and enjoyable as this one.