Acid Box (3LP box set)
There’s no question that bands have come up with some pretty unusual items to include with their albums and/or box sets in the twenty-first century, but Acid – the band formed by Jeff Hassay and Imaad Wasif (Wasif – the guitarist who filled in for James Iha in the Smashing Pumpkins in the Nineties, formed The New Folk Implosion with Lou Barlow and collaborated with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for a while in the new millennium) – have set a new standard for ‘strange’ with their Acid Box. Musically, the set contains three full-length albums (all of which are new releases) and then there is a laser pen with a UV filter. That, along with a pin, a poster and a few other accoutrements is what can be found IN the box, but the box itself is still another curiosity; featuring a quarter-inch input jack in its spine, the box can be plugged in and used to create percussive sounds and rudimentary drum beats when one taps on the box top or pounds on the floor immediately next to it (see this video for a demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PhRdM_l3a4 ). The way it all works is simultaneously pretty simple and pretty inventive. In addition to that, the records in the set have been pressed on transparent, color-changing vinyl that the UV cel on the laser pointer activates briefly as the record spins on a turntable, and creates a little trail on it – so the records feature a bit of a “gee whiz” effect which is still pretty cool, even after you figure out how it works. The same is true of the box itself; with enough practice and an inventive spirit, it could be possible to create a fairly decent that one could sample and loop in Garageband, and make some of your own demos.
All of the frills outlined above are secondary to the music found in the Acid Box though; in this set are three albums of all-new material, each pressed into 181 gram vinyl, and the music is most definitely a unique experience that listeners of a particular mind will cherish dearly, when they find it.
As needle catches groove on the A-side of Romance, some listeners may find that the amount of time it takes for the music to begin makes them a little uncomfortable. Granted, the wait is really only about ten seconds before listeners begin to hear something but, when it’s on vinyl and you’re watching it spin expectantly, the wait ceases to feel methodical and begins to feel sardonic; even from note one, Acid really lets listeners know who’s in control, and they’ll find that they need the bend to the band’s vision, submissively, rather than the other way around. When it does begin to play, Romance‘s opening cut, “Bad Vibrations,” presents a sound which is in its gentility, focus and darkness. Here, spare drumming and muted rock instrumentation only color the canvas and set a backdrop for lines like, “Last night I had a dream of you/ Didn’t I baby? Didn’t I baby?/ I’m tearing at the seams for you/ Aren’t I baby? Aren’t I baby?” ooze out with an ease which can make any listener break out into gooseflesh, on the right day.
There’s a certain menace in moments like those in “Bad Vibrations,” and listeners may feel like the hairs on the backs of their necks are beginning to stand at attention, only a minute and a half into the song – but it’s not done yet. Granted, there is no in tone or tempo throughout the song’s play – no dramatic shifts in tone or volume happen between the verses and choruses deepen the “creepy” factor with lines like “My heart is an open sore” – but that only proves to deepen the sense of unease about the song rather than relieving it.After four and a half minutes, the song finally ends and listeners will finally feel like it’s safe to exhale – or rather, the band allows such an event to occur.
After “Bad Vibrations” ends, the delicate drumming which powered the song endures but the mixes of the songs become a lot more “rock identified” as “Casey” slithers out from under a rock to warn listeners what the band might have in store for them, like a rattlesnake in the desert-rock sessions. Decidedly very :Seventies rock guitar” tones color “Casey” and sees Acid come surprisingly close to replicating T. Rex-informed bombast, albeit on a much smaller scale, before easing into an indie rock slow-dance for “I Get Excited” which comes complete with really soothing keyboards initially, but then changes the vibe into something far more angular before the song ends. A similar kind of movement (sort of easy indie rock, but with really rigid beats included too) holds up the running through “I Don’t Wanna Be Disturbed” before the side finally spins to a close with a great and almost playful vibe installed into “Gone (Gone Gone).” There, Acid doesn’t exactly seek to change tones musically so much as imply such a change with a more mobile vocal meter (check out “I tried to know her/ I tried to get closer/ But there was a slight delay/ Then things went in reverse/ And she wanted me first/ But it was a little too late”) which makes the movement more fun, brightens the sound and ensures that listeners will happily continue with the album through its second side. True, the difference between “Gone (Gone Gone)” and the other cuts on the A-side of Romance is minimal, but when the grey starts to part and rays of sunshine cut through, the change feels beautiful – and that’s certainly the case here.
Because of the changes manifested in “Gone (Gone Gone),” listeners will be able to recognize that “Innocence” starts the B-side in a slightly different place and manner. There, as synths set up a very British and glowering backdrop, Imaad Wassif adds the perfect amount of pop flavoring with a very hopeful-sounding vocal melody, and lyrics like, “You come around with guillotine mind/ You’re somebody else, somebody else/ I wouldn’t let this kind of thing slide/ With anyone else – anyone else” support that kind of sensation perfectly. It’s funny, but the obvious pop structures here contrast perfectly with the comparatively dark fare on the A-side of the album, and it will send listeners running headlong into “Innocence”; the contrast is spectaculr. Further contrasting the difference between the A- and B-sides of Romance, the second song on the B-side picks up acoustic guitars to prove even greater contrast regarding what Acid is capable of. There, lines like, “We were young/ I was not thinking clear/ I watched you disappear/ Then looked in your eyes” give the song a greater sense of depth than any of the songs which played through the A-side and, again, listeners will just soak it up; without intending to downplay the A-side, the B- really seeks to elevate craft over canny showmanship and listeners will find that they just fall into the results so easily – even when they hear it coming. The play is just that good. When the album’s title track plays through slowly and gently to close out the album, those listeners who have run front-to-back with Romance won’t be able to do much more other than heave a contented sigh. While there’s no doubt that there are moments during which the running of Romance feels a little precarious, it resolves tastefully and will leave listeners hopeful for more, in the end. Happily, there are two more albums in the Acid Box to satiate that hunger.
Science Fiction with Acid LP
While there is obvious sonic connective tissue between Romance and Science Fiction with Acid, there’s no question that – if listeners play the albums in sequence – there is movement from one album to the next. While Romance is more tentative and reserved, one gets the feeling that Science Fiction… is intended to be a more “pre-established” affair; the band throws its weight around more confidently and just seems to assume that introductions to Acid – who the band is and what its about – are unnecessary.
The difference between albums one and two is perfectly self-evident as soon as the album’s title track opens its A-side – “Science Fiction” is front-loaded with huge and bombastic horns which punctuate its movement and, while that sound does change as soon as that song ends and “Don’t Think It Over” begins, that aforementioned crunch still informs the second cuts presence too. There is an obvious and undeniable sneer about Imaad Wasif’s guitar tone which makes it feel defiant (a vibe upheld by Wasif’s vocals, which sound like they were inspired by first wave punk records from New York) – even if such defiance isn’t overtly stated.
The stringy, sinewy punk vibes continue unabated through “Fear” (which, yes, sounds a little like the Seventies L.A. punk band of the same name), but breaks with the wholly bizarre arrangement and compositional choices which mark “Phases.” Sounding like a weird hybrid between a Hendrix demo circa Band of Gypsys and a track which might have fallen off I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight by Richard and Linda Thompson, listeners won’t be able to stop themselves from smiling as the song just sort of farts its way along for three minutes with more confidence than it really has any right to possess. Even so, when “Mysterious Light” follows “Phases” with a far more confident, almost U2-esque demeanor for about two minutes before fading out to close the side, the silliness of “Phases” will be forgiven. Granted, Acid didn’t really include a lyric sheet in “Mysterious Light,” but the song just FEELS like it possesses so much promise that listeners will be left glowing as they move to flip the record over. As heavy-handed as “Mysterious Light” feels, there is enough beauty in it to inspire confidence that greater things are coming, as the side ends.
…And the deep, thick groove which powers “Penetration” at the opening of Science Fiction‘s B-side brilliantly delivers on the promise left by “Mysterious Light.” Deftly crossing textural guitars pulled out of the Desert rock sensibility and woven tightly around song structures reminiscent of Depeche Mode, Acid finds an accidental route to the best song on the record as both Wasif and Hassay make sure they keep a spry step through all three of the minutes it takes to play through the song, and exits strongly enough that listeners will be elated to discover that “Penetration” wasn’t a one-trick pony, with some help from “Head Space.”
Perhaps because they know they’ve already got a head of steam behind them, Acid takes the opportunity to test some pop waters with “Nothing Is Wasted,” which crosses melodies as old and classic as The Beatles with some post-punk post-modernism to really give a thick and juicy cut to the underground. “Nothing Is Wasted” really does stand out brightly and, while that really casts the staggering, stuttering rhythm of “Stayin’ Up Late” into a less than ideal light, the sense of loss and rubber-faced heartache which characterizes “Come Together” pulls the side together tightly to close the album. Granted, “Come Together” is not the brightest shiner in the album’s running, the high-pitched and powerful singing in the song implies a level of comfort in the band which was simply not felt as present before this point. That change will have listeners going back to see if there’s more dots to connect in this running that they may have missed, initially; while Science Fiction with Acid sees the band seeming to get more comfortable with themselves as the vinyl spins, listeners will find that they’ll have greater appreciation in this disc than they had in its predecessor as well.
…And, if you run from front-to-back through all three LPs that the Acid Box set collects, Persona feels undeniably like a fantastic release. Where Science Fiction with Acid and Romance take different angles to fill out a sonic idea that Persona clearly shares, the ten cuts which comprise this album feel unmistakably more active and energized. The difference between Persona and both Science Fiction… and Romance is apparent as soon as “Death” opens the running and never lets listeners forget it. There’s a darker and almost electronic angle to “Death” which is instantly exciting for those who have already run through the first two albums in thew set. Little ripples of static spread out from a very simply bass line and drumming pattern which bears a resemblance to the sound of a dub reggae album but, when the vocals in the song make their way out, a deep shade of goth overtakes the running and that change proves to be utterly hypnotic. The coil and release of the guitars and bass here hint at a sense of menace, but the contrast between that and the uplifting choral vocals proves to be a great hook which is capable of capturing and holding listeners’ collective imagination.
The sense of menace hung upon the sounds and movement of “Death” fluidly mutate into a more Depeche Mode-ish sonic location as more sonorous and electronic textures overtake “Moves,” the second cut on the side. There, a more decidely mainstream and gothic vibe overtakes the proceedings as really sparse production and more high-pitched, almost whimpering tones characterize characterize the vocal melodies and a reoccurring tremolo effect makes the guitar feel dusty and arid. The movement feels as though it’s going to get even darker as cinematic synths characterize “Substance” (the cut which follows “Moves”), but then immediately turns away from that direction as “You Don’t Have To Change” spontaneously gets a whole lot brighter. Guitars get more trebly and assume a more active role in the song’s composition, which is instantly attention-grabbing. The resulting change in “You Don’t Have To Change” is absolutely spectacular; while the other cuts on the A-side of Persona make the most of a darker or at least more introspective viewpoint, “You Don’t Have To Change” completely flips the script on that view, and believably turns in a more outward-looking and brighter presentation. Of course, it doesn’t last long – “Tomorrow” instantly backslides with sheets of distortion and introspection to close the side – but the difference registers as far more than just a blip in this running.
On the B-side of Persona, Acid returns to a more introspective place as “Resister” seems to come even closer to a pop-informed, Depeche Mode-ish location, but it could be contended that the precedent was set and so the band does not stay there long. “Dreamin’ Daze” ventures to more drug-induced, Flaming Lips-ish climes which are definitely sunnier (even if the first lyrics in the song are, “I kept the shards of my broken heart in a tree trunk up the way”) while “Philosophy” sort of splits the difference between the bluesy side of The Black Keys in their early career and the seething place which was Live’s comfort zone in “Dam At Otter Creek.” The overtone remains dark, of course, but the dominant theme always looks up instead of down – which keeps the album from sinking and listeners from losing interest.
The two best cuts on Persona happen to be the last two on the B-side of the album, “Persona” and “Heaven.” While the title track on any given album is normally supposed to set the standard for the album, in this case, “Persona” redeems many of the darker tones which are so consistent in this running; lush and dense tones characterize “Persona” as Imaad Wasif makes the best use of a wah pedal while simultaneously trying out some very “Sixties” introspective song dynamics which still manage to feel warm instead of chilling listeners out. Conversely, “Heaven” gets undeniably bright and colorful for a solid three and a half minutes and gives listeners all the light they could possibly need to show themselves out, before the needle lifts.
When they do get out of the running of the Persona LP, listeners (particularly those who have blasted their way through all three LPs which comprise the Acid Box in one sitting) may need a minute to let their eyes adjust, but that is also the case for just playing through Persona on its own too; it’s a great, genuinely engrossing album. Listeners will find that, moreso than is the case on Romance or Science Fiction, the hook sinks in deeply with Persona. Each of the albums in the Acid Box have their charms, but Persona is definitely a representation of the set at its summit. [Bill Adams]
Acid Box demo video.
All the albums in the Acid Box are available on LP for individual sale or as a limited edition box set. Buy it here, directly from on Narnack Records.