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Mother Hips - Pacific Dust
CD Review by Jud Conway on 12/15/2009   

The Mother Hips have spent the past eighteen years becoming, quite possibly, the best rock and roll band that you never heard in your life. Unless you were fortunate enough to be indoctrinated into the Hips culture through their predominantly West Coast regional touring, rabid internet fan-base, or brief mid-nineties foray into major label territory, then you might be forgiven for overlooking their "cult classic" back catalog of no less than six full-length studio albums, and as many singles, epís, live documents, and various solo offshoots. But hear this loud and clear KindWeb reader; there is NO EXCUSE beyond this point. With the newly-released Pacific Dust out on Camera Records, it is high time to finally give Chico, Californiaís Mother Hips their due.

The Mother Hips unique sound is an elemental blend of sun-warmed vocal harmonies, country-rock sympathies, psychedelic explorations, jam-band improvisations, and garage-band grit that creates a distinctly west-coast soup the band calls "California soul." Led by co-founders Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono, the band has been lurking just below the radar of major stardom since circulating their independent debut, Back to the Grotto, in 1992. The newly-released Pacific Dust forges a near-perfect balance between the Hips boundless youthful energy and mature stature.

Musically, Pacific Dustís powerful opener, "White Falcon Fuzz," comes across as a fresh and at the same time familiar melodic construct somewhere out of the seventies-era ether. Lyrically, one can simply revel in the enjoyment of trying to wrap around cryptic Bluhm musings, like "I donít know what the penalty is for thinkiní you can do whatís left of whatís never been done, and if I never find out itís either cuz I did it or I tried and I failed, said forget it and walked into the sun." "White Falcon Fuzz" is followed by a faithful rereading of the bandís 1999 hard-rockiní single, "Third Floor Story" that bleeds into the newly-released "Jess Oxox," a track that might be perfectly at home on an early solo Neil Young or America release.

As is typical of a Hips release, Bluhm and Loiacono both contribute original material and take lead vocal turns. Loiaconoís "The Lion and the Bull" and "Young Charles Ives" are perhaps some of his strongest compositions and catchiest lead vocals to date. On the latter track, he tells the story of how a father and son relate to each other through music, leaving the listener wondering if perhaps the song is a thinly veiled autobiographical reference.

The title track is perhaps one of the bandís deepest excursions into atmospheric, distortion-drenched ambience. It is interesting that the Hips should choose this song as the albumís namesake. There is an inherent darkness to this cut, both musically and lyrically, that belies the generally sunny nature of the album as a whole.

The album closes with Bluhmís "Cheer Up Champ," which has a kind of "Still Crazy After All These Years" Paul Simon vibe subverted by cymbal swells and reverb baths. The song deconstructs itself by the end of its seven-plus minutes leaving the listener ready to dive into the Pacific Dust for a second listen.

Not everyday does an album arrive that so fully penetrates the malaise of modern rock like Pacific Dust. If you explore only a handful of new releases this year, I recommend that The Mother Hipsí latest offering be at the top of the short list.

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