Review Summary: A mixed bag of something or other that does a little bit of this and that with some of that other thing involved too, etc.
Upon my first listen of this album, some thoughts came to my mind: "Is this allowed? Is this frowned upon? Is something broken? Am I drunk?" This trudging machine of an album had broken all rules of what I believed to be music. Nothing seemed melodic, there was no heroic lyricism, rhythms were askew and nonsensical, everything just seemed to happen. Through every dense wall of dissonance and each moment of "what the ***"-ery, I soon realized that there are no rules here. It's complete anarchy; no order, no rhythm, no melody, not a care in the world. Rock and roll being chopped and screwed beyond the point of recognition. This is U.S. Maple. Imagine a building being built top heavy with no support beams and a plethora of physical deterioration, rocking back and forth seemingly appearing to stay upright even though it looks ready to crumble if someone were to poke it with a stick. All personifications and superlatives aside though, this album is absolutely essential to any eclectic's music collection.
And so the album begins with drummer Pat Sampson's major league throw of the drumsticks at the snare and the floor tom simultaneously, starting into the groggy stomp of "Hey King". This song is the most unstructured of the album and commendably opens this collection of tracks by pounding the senses with angular (the favorite word of any math rock reviewer) riffs and screeching guitars. If the listener survives that, soon revealed to us is a sloppy rock and roll song with vocalist Al Johnson wheezing out the words "Daaayeh" and "Awweeeyh", with a proud burst of optimism in the form of "WWOOOEEEEHHHH". The lyrics in this song as well as the rest of the album literally make no sense, providing to the general satire of it. "Letter to ZZ Top" and "Home-Made Stuff" continue on the same path of irregularity. To be completely honest, the first three tracks of the album are so well executed in the sense that they're so musically absurd. I found myself laughing hysterically at some points; laughing not because I thought it was a joke, but because I was having so much fun. “Long Hair In Three Stages” is obtuse, diverse and overall superb.
Continuing on, the first three tracks shined but it was nothing in comparison to the highlights of the album: "Magic Job" and "The State is Bad". "Magic Job" exudes general badass-ery with a bass line that recalls Goat by The Jesus Lizard
and then a guitar part that sounds like "Flight of The Bumblebee" on muscle relaxers. This track is a landmark; noise rock at its finest. I found myself dancing like a complete disorderly in my own living room. Good ol' Al Johnson comes with an inebriated swagger, dispersing syllables from his mouth in the most indecipherable fashion. The real highlight of the album however is "The State is Bad". This riff is nothing short of revolutionary. Guitarists Mark Shippy and Todd Rittmann shine brightest on this track with a flawless meshing of tempo control and harmonics. The rhythmic structures are cut and pasted in the most awkward spots, highlighting the band's knack for the unconventional. Execution, as previously stated, is perfect and they do it so naturally.
Furthermore, the band has an extreme capacity for variety. Each song sounds completely individual and stands strongly on its own. "Aplomado" continues right on the same path as "State" and does so with virtually no length to it. I believe that during the second verse a trombone is used adding yet another sound to an already wide selection of them. The strong point of the band's style is how they seem to fit in every imaginable sound and into each of their tracks without it sounding like too much. Each time I listen to this I hear something new, making the album a very fresh listen each time it's played. The album lumbers along through satirical blues riffs ("When A Man Says 'Ow'") and general oddity while keeping the listener completely engaged, trying to guess what these noise-rock maestros think of next.
In addition, I would just like to dedicate this paragraph to the drummer Pat Sampson and everything he does during this album. Throughout the duration you hear him charging through the tracks like a freight train. The man plays like he's fallen into dissociative anesthesia and it sounds absolutely perfect. On any other circumstances this would be terrible drumming but given the band’s design, Sampson is first-rate. He keeps time with broken rhythmic subdivisions and a sloshed sense of metrics giving the album a general complexity. Every now and then throughout the tenure of “Long Hair In Three Stages’” runtime, Sampson throws a spastic fill that just sounds like objects being thrown at other objects and background noise. This also would usually be a negative aspect but once again the form of the music being played here makes Samspon’s violent thrashing spot on.
In conclusion, U.S. Maple have created a superb, unequivocally essential record with “Long Hair in Three Stages” that has a fresh, authentic feel to it even 17 years after its release. Basically an all you can eat buffet of musical angularity with dissonance, lopsided rhythms, expert groove and a vocalist who sounds like Tom Waits stranded in a desert. Though it may be unstructured and random at first listen, this album is sure to extend your musical boundaries.