It's a formula first conceived by the Yardbirds and Cream, stripped to its thunderous
essence by Blue Cheer and rendered operatic by Led Zeppelin: Take traditional
blues riffs, slow them to a crawl and feed them
through the loudest, most distorted system of pedals and amps imaginable. Float
a few high, mystical lyrics over the top in a feathery, Jack Bruce-ish
Leave a little space after every phrase for one of
those skin-busting drum fills. Yeah, that was perfect... play it
again... and again... and again.
The point is that if you've spent any time at all driving around in a half-wrecked,
gas-guzzling 1970s T-bird, beer cans rolling around on the floor and stereo blasting,
if your hair's ever grown past your shoulders (or if
you're female, if you've ever dated that type), Pearls & Brass are going to
appeal to you at a molecular level. They're a heavy-metal stoner trio of the
type that you might have given up on after Dead Meadow went a little pop-psyche
or when Queens of the Stone Age ditched wildman Nick. It's the kind of music
that finds serenity in the roar of ultra-heavy guitar riffs,
reiterated into oblivion. You can catch a buzz from it, even if you gave
up smoking pot long ago, just by historical association.
Yes, it's 1970s-influenced, but the first thing you need to know is that
it's nothing like Black Sabbath. There's a fluidity in Pearls & Brass'
heaviness that's totally at odds with Tommy's stop-flecked style. The
five-note riff that juts upward in "The Face of God" is all of a piece,
dots connected, bent notes slithering through the monolithic sludge. The
time signature is a moving target as well, with the band often slipping out
of the 4/4 straitjacket, slowing down the beat and stretching
phrases like a viscous liquid. Compare that to the staccato thunder of
"War Pigs" or "Paranoid," where dead white silence sets off phrases. It's
far more reminiscent of Mountain or Blue Cheer in its wall-to-wall
saturated sound and time-bending repetitive riffs.
It's also not very Zeppelin-ish, even though both bands start with blues
and turn them way, way up. There's a kind of modesty to Pearls & Brass'
songs, a single-level-ness, that avoids Led Zeppelin's more ridiculous
excesses, but also their emotional peaks and valleys. The two sole
exceptions are the two acoustic songs, "I Learn the Hard Way" and "Away the
Mirrors," which shimmer with mystic intensity despite the lower volume, and
cannot help but remind you of III's quieter moments.
At their best "Face of God," "Black Rock Man" and "The Boy of the Willow
Tree" Pearls & Brass churn out hard-rocking sculptures of distorted
sounds at buffeting volume, but with a meditative, trance-inducing
core. You might carp by saying that the songs blur together a little and
fail to develop much past their initial ideas, but there's a hypnotic
center to the kind of loud Pearls & Brass produce.