Heavy Psych Sounds recently compiled and released a first for America’s desertified hard rock act Mondo Generator – a two vinyl record or CD set, titled Best Of.
While Mondo Generator was formed in 1997, it’s debut didn’t see the light of day until 2000, when a break in band founder, bassist and vocalist Nick Oliveri‘s schedule allowed. Now, 16 (or 19?) years later, a label chose to re-release choice cuts from the band’s oeuvre. The 21 songs appear to be chosen for their value to fans, to make statements, and follow a certain unsettling or intensely contrasting stylistic flow. All four “main electric” albums are well represented, with standout material like “Simple Exploding Man” or “Sonic Slow Motion Trails” carrying equally heavy weight to perhaps lesser known or less oft-played material, like “Shawnette Jackson” or “Detroit”.
Despite the recordings having taken place across multiple years and recording studios, utilizing multiple producers and audio engineers, the sound remains as smooth and consistent as vintage analog material tends to: it’s warm, crisp, punchy, and dynamic. Volume doesn’t sway as violently as mood between songs, so, volume adjustments are not necessary between discs. For this release, some songs appear to have been slightly re-titled, however, the music retains its original integrity.
The songs are ephemeral – quick to consume, and quick to pass, embodying basically a punk rock ethos. Tunes encompass an intense feel, with mountains and valleys of ebb and flow to the track sequencing. Emotion is emphasized much more then technical virtuosity. Rhythm and syncopation seem more prominent in these songs than for the vast majority of punk rock, perhaps due to the fact that, as a bassist and songwriter, Oliveri has worked closely with drummers to help drive some of rock’s biggest names.
In keeping with the collaborative nature of the desert rock scene, decorated guests pepper the records. “Dog Food” sports Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Them Crooked Vultures), Happy Tom of Turbonegro, and The Fresh Prince of Darkness of The Dwarves.
“The Last Train” features Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Them Crooked Vultures, Iggy Pop) on lead guitar and John Garcia (Kyuss) on vocals. Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age, Sweethead, Gone Is Gone), CJ Ramone, Dave Catching (Eagles of Death Metal), Mark Lanegan, Brant Bjork (Kyuss), Blag Dahlia, and others also make uncredited appearances. Louise thought* this one was very Iggy Pop, and was thinking “I’m Bored“, (not literally) and on doing a bit of research the Iggy Pop comparison became clearer when she discovered it was actually a cover of a song from his 1980 album, Soldier!
The ballady “Take Me Away”, with its rich instrumentation, laid-back tempo, and lovely spring reverb, is very ‘surf and sand’ evocative. This song would go well with the shoegazey, post-punk proggy, noisy yet calm “Sleep The Lie Away”, but the anthemic rocker “Like You Want” is sandwiched in-between, to keep the sonic train just inches from derailing. Louise says “Take Me Away“, with it’s brass and flamenco style strumming, was certainly more laid back than many of the other tracks, whilst “Sleep The Lie Away” reminded me of Jane’s Addiction‘s “Just Because“. Was Perry Farrell making an uncredited appearance? Whether he was or not, I’m not sure, but it sounded very like his vocal style anyway!”
“F.Y.I.F” is pretty melodic. The song’s simpler, more primitive arrangement allows for thick distortion to stand front and centre in an aurally pummeling, driving rock tune. Provocative lyrics, and well-timed false endings help set the tone for the release: heavy hitting punky rock. Oliveri’s vocals are very punk, harnessing a lot of emphatic near-screaming, interspersed with quick attempts at melodic ‘clean’ singing. Louise comments, with “F.Y.I.F” standing for “Fuck you, I’m free”, of course the lyrics appealed to the innate blasphemer in me!
If the drum-led introduction to “Sonic Slow Motion Trails” sounds familiar, it might be deliberate. Homme, a writing partner of Oliveri’s for years, wrote some of the music for Iggy Pop’s latest, Post Pop Depression. On Pop’s latest, “Sunday” starts with an eerily similar beat, possibly lending an approving, subtle nod to Oliveri’s earlier work. Slightly syncopated, the track features a choppy, staccato verse riff, underscoring how rhythm-focused the band stays. Vocals here are smoother and seem more deliberate and intentional then pure raw emotional. The end is a quirky ear-twist: along with the intro drum lick repeat, it features a discordant, twisted, ‘sonic trail’ note. Louise thought this one had an essence of Muse – think “Knights of Cydonia“.
Metallic, hard rocking “The Last Train“ blares into being with a militaristic style, anthemic drum and guitar intro that moves seamlessly into a relaxed, kinetic type tempo. Plenty of grit and a ‘fixed’ wah-effect, on both bass and guitar, add fullness and depth to an already thick sound. A female voice stereo hardpans (she’s in the left ear once, then the right, then the left…), echoing every second verse line. Homme pulls a guest guitar solo about halfway through, but this is a vocal focus, lyrically minded number. Like many of the others here, it focuses on walking a thin line – living on a knife edge between death / destruction / damnation, and simply existing. Louise felt this one would make a fabulous theme tune to something like Flash Gordon, Queen got the gig this time, but who knows what the future holds!
“Simple Exploding Man” is over 11 minutes long! The tune’s lore is that Oliveri got each of the Kyuss members to record their parts separately, and later, the song was mixed in the studio, resulting in a “Kyuss reunion”. Naturally, the song sounds very much like early desert rock, with its doomy, robotic, repeating, simpler, heavy riffs. Extended jam sections, a ‘chill’ tempo, and at least two guitar solos add to the ambiance. Not being a fan of particularly long songs, Louise managed to endure all eleven and a half minutes of this one, although initially thinking of Monty Python’s Mr Creosote blowing up, but that’s more about the title than the song. Louise’s overall impression was that the song was like something, or anything, by Led Zeppelin being “Sabotage“d by The Beastie Boys!
“Era Vulgaris”, the 2007 Queens of the Stone Age non-album song released alongside an album of the same name, seems to have been informed by “Lie Detector”. “Lie Detector” was laid to tape earlier, at Studio 606, so, if it sounds familiar, again, that’s deliberate. The intertwined, tangled, and “incestuous musical relationships to Queens” (said Van Leeuwen), are subtly underscored, breeding familiarity and enjoyment of a common ground, a common and heavy sound. The relaxed tempo juxtaposes sharp, “robot rock” guitar stabs, staccato verses, and more legato choruses, again showing the band’s attention and devotion to rhythm.
“Like You Want” rocks out with an anthemic, arena rock or hard rock vibe. A relaxed tempo allows for the big rock riffs to build, shine, and crash. Rhythm guitar and bass bring the noise, adding grit to a thick, melodic soup. Some distortion is applied to the vocals for extra texture. The song also features a cliffhanger of a false ending. Louise thought this tune sounded like an Iggy Pop/The Black Bullets collaboration! “Sin Seeker“ on a “Sunday“?
For a broad, cross-sectional sampler, Best Of is a fine way to ‘get into’ Mondo Generator and its take on music. While the sequencing or flow of the songs may not be for everyone, for collectors, and aficionados of punk rock, desert rock, and hard rock, this set will be a welcome addition.
Highlight Track – Like You Want
NOTE: *This is a collaborative review by Iris North and Louise Swift. The bulk has been written by Iris (hence the Americanized spelling) with some observations thrown in by Louise (English spelling) where indicated.
Vinyl Track Listing:
Like The Sky
The Last Train
Simple Exploding Man
I Never Sleep
Take Me Away
Like You Want
Sleep The Lie Away
Turbonegro Must Be Destroyed
All The Way Down
Mondo Generator Band Lineup:
Nick Oliveri – Bass Guitar, Vocals
Mike Pygmie – Guitar
Jeff Bowman – Drums