Last week, Fox-TV gave The Tomorrowpeople some national distribution when the band's shiny redo of its 1997 song "Mercitron" could be heard during the final period of the first Dallas Stars-Buffalo Sabres game. Hey, who needs a major label when you've got TV on your side? "Mercitron" and eight other songs, including a string-laden update of "Youth in Orbit," didn't make it onto Marijuana Beach, a seven-track EP guitarist-bassist Jody Powerchurch calls "a stopgap kind of deal." While it's a shame that only a few will get to hear just how wondrous the album rejected by the Universal Music Group (the behemoth that swallowed whole the band's former label, Geffen) could have been, Marijuana Beach is remarkable enough on its own.
Marijuana Beach is what ambition sounds like when it's given a blank check. From the orchestrated melodrama of "By My Side" and the title track to the vaporous "Shiny Mutation" and the I-spying of "Get Norris," it's equal parts beautiful and bizarre, subversive pop too odd for the mainstream and too pretty for anywhere else. No way a major label is going to release a subtle, whimsical protest song such as "America's Deathrow Sweetheart" to radio, its lyrics shrugging off the late Karla Faye Tucker's murderous past ("You, you're so beautiful/You can get away with anything"). "By My Side" is the would-be-should-be hit, frontman Mike Gibson "keepin' it real" (needy, that is) with his breathy falsetto, either singing about a girlfriend or a girl he's stalking, while surging violins and gurgling synths split the difference. "Love That Yer Making" is even better, with the band combining Radiohead's guitars and Bernard Hermann's string section into a flick-your-Bic anthem.
Mazinga Phaser has also chosen the EP route to follow up 1997's Abandinallhope. Counting Breaths is also its first release since founding member Wanz Dover left the band to form The Falcon Project. But Dover shows up on two of the three songs, "Manhattan Hoedown" and "Glass of Glycerine," both recorded live at a July 1997 performance at New York's Knitting Factory. Counting Breaths is a transition between the old and the new: "Manhattan Hoedown" and "Glass of Glycerine" are one long jam covered in Dover's guitar shrapnel, while "Counting Breaths" is as structured as anything the band has ever done, fueled by singer Jessica Nelson's sultry voice and Karl Poetschke's slippery trumpet. It's a thrilling look back, and a glance at a beautiful future.
-- Zac Crain
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