Mushroom - "Foxy Music" (innerSPACE Records 2001, (US)/Clearspot/EFA (GR) (CS049/05430)

From Aural Innovations #17 (September 2001)

San Francisco's Mushroom is back already with another new recording, following up the 'Compared to What' LP & CD releases with a product of similar making. I mean, all of the names of those who appear on the album have been with the Mushroom collective before. Somewhat unusual, actually.

However, the quick realization that four tracks from 'Foxy Music' appeared also on 'Compared to What' might mislead you into thinking that this is not all new material. So I feel the need to point out right away that all four versions of these 'familiar' tunes are indeed unique to this work and are in fact quite different than what we heard before. We also have another eight tunes of completely original stuff, so no claim of redundance can be substantiated. The nucleus of Pat Thomas (drums), Dave Mihaly (percussion), Erik Pearson (guitar, sax, flute, violin), Kurt Statham (bass), and Michael Holt (organ) are still in-house, as is guitarist Josh Pollock (doubling with Thomas and Pearson in University of Errors) on four tracks. Also, the recent addition of several horn players (Jon Birdsong and Carroll Ashby on cornet and trombone, respectively) has mirrored the band's current tendencies more toward the Miles Davis/Sun Ra psychedelic big-band jazz thing and a bit less toward the cosmic krautrock sort of thing. (Because certain rhythmic elements are nearly common to both, your perspective may vary.) Personally, while I lean toward the latter, I also feel that this newer material has opened my eyes a bit as I have enjoyed some of these 'jazzier' pieces just as much.

'Foxy Music' kicks off with "Grooving with Herbie" (namedroppers!) and as the groovy bassline builds, a flute and a muted trombone duel it out... muted just to make it fair I presume. A nice start. The familiar "I Got Blisters on My Fingers" (version No. 3 actually) is the best one if you ask me, Pearson's 'snake' guitar slithering in behind the unsettling, dissonant guitar-jangle of Pollock. "Joe Namath" (why him?) is a different sort of beast, a flatulent tuba of all things contributing to the slow, bassy beat that gets better when the noisy, psychedelic morsels (now what the hell instruments are these?) are slipped in towards the end. Next, I will say I prefer the Irmler mix of the title track 'Foxy Music' (which appeared on 'Compared to What') as it just seemed more 'eerie.' But then, the devil(went-down-to-Georgia)ish violin squeals are enhanced here, and the presence of a distant and echoed guitar line near the end was a good addition.

In the latter half of the album, a taste of post-rock experimentalism is clear. "I Had Some Dreams, They Were Clouds in My Coffee" (far from a Mushroom record in terms of title length) is the bee's knees, a wonderfully crafted bit of textural manipulation, with the guitar mimicking church bells and the muted cornet seeming to be a saxophone. The swirly synths and dreamy eastern flavor (cue the sitar!) make me feel that they 'stole' this one from their U.of Errors alter-ego. Anyway, I just love this tune. Whether intentional or not, a bit of irony ensues as the similarly experimental "Getting in Thun" features *real* church bells amongst the blissful humming drone. "Americans Own the Moon…" (titled shortened for your convenience) and "For Men With Beards" are the last of the 'old' tunes, reversed in terms of length from the 'originals.' "Moon" is a brief four-minute excerpt of the original 20 minute (plus) epic, but much more conventional in style, allowing the jazzy-funk rhythm of the tune to be heard in its pure unadulterated form. "Beards" includes the same short interval that we heard previously, but just at the end of an extended piece that first goes through multiple phases of construction/deconstruction of the base elements. Frankly, this is the one (and only) place where my tendency to dislike brassy horns in rock music became a problem for me, as the trumpets were on the verge of 'wailing.'

Mushroom hasn't faltered in quality control even as they retain their proliferation of new works, though I admit that I keep expecting them to disappoint me. That's entirely due to my suspicion of horns, which I further admit is odd given that I am myself a trumpet player. (Now you know why I don't play in a rock band!) Anyway, you can rest assured that if you enjoyed Mushroom and/or University of Errors in the past, there's soon to be another 53 minutes of top notch stuff here for you to consume. The thing I'm most happy about is I got this review out *before* the album is to be released here in the states (already out in Germany), and so perhaps I can rest for a bit until the next one arrives, undoubtedly already in the works.

For more information you can visit the innerSPACE Records web site at:
Contact Mushroom by email at:
Contact via snailmail c/o innerSPACE Records; PO Box 411241; San Francisco, CA 94141-1241.

Reviewed by Keith Henderson

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