It’ll be next to impossible to write anything about Whittier, California-based stoner rock trio Nebula without falling headfirst into a series of personal anecdotes and falling back on this very old attitude of mine wherein I’d always seen the notable band as a more ‘retro rock’-minded yet direct offshoot of Fu Manchu. Though ‘…And the Circus Leaves Town‘ was my introduction to the Palm Desert stoner rock-related phenom in general when it released circa 1995 it was ‘Daredevil‘ that’d convinced me to drop heavily into stoner music and trade the ol’ skateboard for weed, punk shows, and what sort of adventures one could get up to as a high school aged fool in the late 90’s. However much my brain continued to grow over the years it had been imprinted with this idea that Nebula were “lesser than” the band they’d been in previous and I’ll admit the thought has taken forever to shake loose. There’ll be no avoiding the amount of nostalgia their name provides either way but that sensation is largely self-imposed as their seventh full-length, ‘Transmission From Mothership Earth’, doesn’t necessarily waste time craning necks back to their late 90’s point of inception. Most of this record builds upon the character of the band whipping up some heavier than ever fuzz-scorched riffs and blowing off steam with the sort of laid back heavy rock songcraft they’re known for. It lands hotter on the dread trigger this time around but not far from their modus since reforming in 2017 and, still represents a group of pros with very little to prove.
The year was 1998, summertime… — You had to be there, really. I’d been writing garbage reviews for a popular punk rock zine out of southern California at the time, sometime after living in Las Vegas for a couple of months and experiencing a way of life most would equate with being on the road, or, at least getting a taste of the real world in an unreal place. Anyhow, my review of Lowrider‘s ‘Reflections‘ sums up the musical connections made around that time pretty quick but doesn’t properly congest the mind with the right idea, that a band like Nebula definitely mattered back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s in terms of spreading the stoner rock/heavy psych revivalist infection whereas revisionism and a few ‘of the era’ reviews of their early work plated ’em up as a side-note, a bit more of a Sabbath groove applied to the Fu Manchu bustle. Journalists at the time growing increasingly weary of the idea that floods of revivalist heavy rock were on their way in various forms, ready to erase the tasteful ‘progress’ of rock music at the time. Contrasting the jammed ebullience of their work with the cynical response to it within my own circles was memorable to me, if not somewhat disconcerting. It is worth considering how far misdirected criticism can take us away from the point that heavy rock music makes as entertainment, that’d been the major lesson learned back when the band’s classic debut LP ‘To The Center‘ (1999) released: This is music meant to be felt and enjoyed, not analyzed in any such brutal mode.
Damn, it feels good to be a Nebula. — Nebula‘s first EP and debut LP were certainly important and influential at the time but it was the grittier, far more focused jog of ‘Charged‘ (2001) that’d sold me best on ’em during their original 1997-2010 run and it remains the record I think of first whenever their name comes up. In some ways ‘Transmission From Mothership Earth‘ has more in common with what the band would explore after ‘Charged‘ but its style is far more stoner metallic and heavier than the eclectic ‘Holy Shit‘ (2019) was upon the band’s return. Somewhere in the midst of their discography stretching into the post-millennium era they’d transcended the retro rock tag for the sake of being a noted stoner rock contribution.
This time around they’re reveling in the headier, chunkier fuzztones available rather than reaching for the spaced rock looseness of Nebula‘s early work. Up front I’d greatly appreciated the instantaneous hit as they jumped into the fray on “Highwired”. There’ll be no more proper way to introduce a rock record than a big, hairy n’ hypnotic scuzz riff or three on the way to a proper chorus, one which hits within the first minute and comes back to cement the opener in mind after small handful of repeats throughout the track. It’d been the best possible way to hit with me what Nebula‘ve long done best even if they’d never been a band to get right to it by my recollection. The grunged-up psych proto-metallic creeping of the title track into standout “Wilted Flowers” represents the glowing core of this album’s appeal on my part where we get a sort of darker, heavier bleed than expected from the band which characterizes Side A as troubled, distraught but not still having a good time with it. For my own taste these are some of the best (or, at least heaviest) songs they’ve written since 2003 or so and it helps matters that it all flows together with strong continuity. The whole of the first half of the LP won quick favor with me for the sake of it running through its four pieces in a consistent thread, drenched in various guitar and vocal effects and holding it all copacetic while their trip pushed in all manner of directions.
Side B has a bit more of the jammed early 70’s by way of the early 90’s shuffle-and-boost you’re likely looking for, the electric organs granting us the escalator to the rest of the album via the seven minute ride of “Warzone Speedwolf”. This is the band I know from all those years ago, or, the skin I recognize best and big-swinging stank of “Existential Blues” follows suit, even if the latter half of the song reminds me of ‘The Ethereal Mirror‘ a bit. Each side of ‘Transmission From Mothership Earth‘ bears its own experience, one that considers the pause in transition to the other side of the LP but has a good time buzzing about with memorable and heady pieces regardless of which mode Nebula are in. That said Side B suffers from the lyrical camp of “I Got So High” but I doubt that’ll bother most listeners who partake. All in all a solid listen which manages two memorable halves. Despite most of my interest rooted in a very distant past to start there’d be no denying the personality of this band holding up over the years and the heavier, somewhat more direct shot of fuzz up front definitely helped to win me over. A moderately high recommendation.
|TITLE:||Transmission From Mothership Earth|
|LABEL(S):||Heavy Psych Sounds Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||July 29th, 2022|
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