Mystic Chords of Memory

It's safe to assume that the shaggy-coifed dudes of Mystic Chords of Memory wouldn't pass the company drug test. Their self-titled platter has all the stoner charm of the psychedelic folkies they serviceably emulate. Spark one up and press play on the languid "Barry Creek Falls." Sound a little familiar? Sharp ears will remember Beachwood Sparks' captain Chris Gunst behind the microphone. But in many ways his new outfit fits him much better. Where the Sparks' update of Pacific Coast cowboys like Gram Parsons and Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds tended to meander, Mystic finds Gunst coming into his own as a songwriter. When he hits his stride with three consecutive acoustic-guitar-driven treasures ("Golden Dome," "Sure, Bert," "Like a Lobster") there are moments of disarming beauty. With breathy harmonies and delicate orchestration (vibraphone, clean electric lead guitar, brushed cymbals), the trio of tunes floats by like a daydream. It doesn't matter that there are moments when the lyrics tend toward baked babble ("I became the lobster, and he became me," etc.); it's damn pretty stuff. But, like a conversation around the bong, things tend to wander into pointless tangents. Of the record's 10 songs, a third of them are throwaway instrumental tracks. One of these, "Soul Through the Bullet Hole," recycles a handful of B-grade Beastie Boys samples into a pointless four-minute trip. The record's last track, "Pi and a Bee," cycles a scratchy piano loop under Gunst's tuneful though slightly absurd moaning. It's a mixed offering, to be sure, but when MCM are on, the record resonates with poignancy. When they're off, well...wait, what were we talking about?

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