Harsh Toke Light Up And Live; am I alone in thinking there may be some kind of subliminal stoner-weed-endorsement thing going down there? or has the paranoia just set in along with the munchies?
I was hipped to this beast of an LP by that all round bad influence Mr J Hubner and I did my best to resist it manfully. Resist it I did, despite the fact that it was released on the ever-reliable Tee Pee Records. Resist it I did, despite the fact that it had one of the worst drawn, yet brilliant LP covers I’d seen in ages. Resist it I did, despite the fact that it only had four tracks on it, one of which was called ‘Plug Into The Moon’. Resist it I did, despite the fact it was released on clear vinyl … damn! That’s where all my manly resistance was routed.
Light Up And Live comes with minimal information. The band are a four piece from San Diego and the lead guitarist is a pro skater by the name of Justin “Figgy” Figueroa*, Austin Ayub, Richie Belton and Gabe Messer. In very broad terms they plough a similar furrow to labelmates Earthless^, predominantly instrumental wigged-out space rock and all the essential stoner tropes are in place – Sabbath in particular (the drummer has a Vol. 4 sticker on his kit) but there are points of difference hereabouts, to my mind Earthless reach upwards, Harsh Toke are t=revelling in being down here with the rest of us swine.
Light Up And Live kicks off with ‘Rest In Prince’, a reference to Michael Prince Johnson a skater who passed away – the LP is dedicated to him. What’s interesting straight away is the heavy, heavy organ sound – this could be the second coming of Vincent Crane. There are vocals but good luck in deciphering a word of ’em! This is heavy, heavy, heavy psych. As you might expect the playing is awesome, the guitar absolutely sizzles but it is the organ and drums that really lead here. The rhythm almost has a jazz sensitivity to it, it warps and changes throughout and the band follow it deftly, never letting up in their attack.
‘Weight Of The Sun’, enters in a quiet fashion and we get a long, gently tribal beat of an intro. It reminds me of a roller coaster a little, the intro takes us up and up very gently and you sit there, secure in the safety of it all but thrilled, knowing the plunge you’re about to take. The guitar, twisting and spiralling, rises to meet the beat and you get taken on a cloud ride, all wistful sunny psych indulgence until minor chord elements begin to creep into the sound. Before you can properly process it all you really are hurtling towards the ground, faster and faster before everything hits slow motion and you realise you’ve been living off nothing but feedback for long minutes now. Eventually of course you find yourself lowered gently back to the ground via some spacey keyboards, ready to ride again.
Look, you all know how this kind of music works. In the hands of lesser practitioners it could be dull as shite, for me the key isn’t so much virtuosity it’s having the imagination and wit to keep your music flowing and progressing, without that it just becomes so much nauseating self-indulgence. Harsh Toke never fall into that trap once, they strut their stuff to perfection, but more importantly THEY ROCK HARD! Check out the bass on the title track if you don’t believe me, in fact just lie down on a suitably soft floor and just let the title track roll on over you – this is heavy perfection, maaaaaannnnn!
The final track, ‘Plug Into The Moon’, as well as being tricky advice is a more skyscraping affair and again I find myself listening past the guitar histrionics and fixating on the churning rhythm section again, the way they anchor it all down is so impressive, particularly when the track turns into a freeform jam section pointed at the stars. I hear bits of Amon Düül II amidst all the freakoutery and freakinery.
Light Up And Live is a really great LP and an absolute must hear for any of you stoner-psych-guitar-worshipping-satanic-rockpig-freakholes out there. Even if, like me, the strongest mood altering substance you hit these days is chamomile tea. To be honest despite the name, I get more of a frenzied, driving, restless vibe from Harsh Toke – this is certainly not navel-gazing stoned music, whatever they may pretend. Hell, who am I kidding, I want to join Harsh Toke.
This is an absolute beast of an album. Praise be.
PS: Here’s a better intro to them, maybe.
*out of curiosity I just watched some YouTube footage of him defying the laws of physics** and giving an interview that was so full of words and phrases that I didn’t understand, he may as well have been speaking Esperanto. He is also sickeningly cool.
**gravity, not thermodynamics.
^they have a split EP coming out with Earthless next week. I may have just accidentally pre-ordered it. It looks beautiful beyond all mortal reckoning.