Review Summary: The third outing into the dark, smoky red desert of the instrumental stoner-math-rock caravan.
It would be nothing new to say that psychedelic/stoner rock is an over-saturated genre, and for no real good reason other than that it's easy to tune a guitar down to drop C, crank up the distortion and pound out those power-chords. The style is also often based around improvisation, giving rise to an easy formula of endless noodling solos and disporting with walls of noise. It's telling then, that you've found a band striving to do something original when their sound exists almost entirely outside of these stereotypes and yet can still be classified as stoner rock.
Tumbleweed Dealer, who have existed now for a few years quietly in the backwaters of Bandcamp, eschew the distortion, the chord-thrashing and the meandering song structures in favour of a tight, clean sound that more recalls a kind of laid-back math rock. Don't be mistaken though, as a band with song titles such as 'How To Light A Joint With A Blowtorch,' 'Bluntlust' and 'Bongwater Creek,' TD are very much rooted in the atmosphere of the weedian. The aim of their music is not to blow you away with mind-melting technicality as the denizens of math-rock might try, but to create a smooth set of jams that might accompany a relaxed evening on a summer's night embracing the warmth of the California desert and the devil's lettuce in your lungs.
By this stage, on their third LP, mastermind Seb Painchaud (who writes guitar and
bass) has established a solid and constant sound for the band, formed around many overlapping guitar licks that must be devised with a loop pedal. Often starting with one or two layers, the songs will progress with a gradual build-up, most commonly featuring high-end tremolo-picking and giving the impression of a ceaseless, trudging journey through a Wild Western landscape as aided by song titles such as 'Saloon Fight' and 'First A Staredown, Then A Shootout.' As if having read and responded to my review of their last LP 'Western Horror,' there is a greater variation of song structures and styles here as some songs go in more unpredictable and interesting directions than this ever-increasingly familiar formula.
The finest example of this is 'Bongwater Creek,' one of their best songs to date. Changing up the laid-back, unhurried vibe of the album's first half, the song bursts in with a fast-paced, upbeat groove with an exhilarating bassline and more complex, dynamic riff than would usually be expected of a stoner-rock song. We are then treated to a funky, bass led section that changes up the song halfway through accompanied by a matching rhythm from the drums which are much improved from their generic, unremarkable nature on previous albums. In fact, one thing to be noticed about the album is the increased input from the drums and bass to the tune of being almost jazzy in their contribution, with basslines wandering around the guitar parts in a lively, buoyant fashion as evidenced from the intro track 'The Carnage Cosmic.'
On 'Stung Into A Blissful Coma By A Swarm Of Heroin Filled Bees,' the band take another step outside their comfort zone with a dramatic, darkly atmospheric and distinctly post-rock tinged finale as the instruments fade out to an echoing, magnificent tremolo that does very much conjure up the image of a dispersing thundercloud of bees, over a red desert sunset. Sadly however, other than these moments the songs mostly stick to the well-establish tropes of the band focused overly on high-pitched tremolo pickings and become difficult to distinguish from one another other than by their amusing names. If TD were to embrace their post-rock tendencies and head down the route glimpsed at the end of this song, more towards a dense and brooding atmosphere, they could reach the potential of their unusual style and escape the trap of becoming "just another instrumental stoner rock band."
Tokes, Hatred & Caffeine is Tumbleweed Dealer's most concise, tightly structured album and shows signs of progress for the band in their improved rhythm section and potential to head in a jazzy or atmospheric post-rock direction. However, it does often fall prey to their tendency to write similar sounding and structured songs that are difficult to distinguish from their other work. This is not to say that the band are devoid of originality, and are in any case a rewarding listen for their unique, clean and surprisingly technical spin on the increasingly weary cult of the stoner rock.