There is something undeniably appealing about music that evokes the desert landscapes of the American West. The imagery of sun-soaked plains of dust beneath a never ending blue sky has pulled at my heartstrings since I first heard the Dead’s “Jack Straw.” This landscape has had a clear influence on psychedelic and improvisational music, and provides the inspiration for BIG Something’s fourth album, Tumbleweed. The album is a sonic desert trip, which uses the barren landscapes as a canvas for an introspective journey. BIG Something is a 6-piece ensemble consisting of Ben Vinograd (drums), Doug Marshall (bass), Josh Kagel (keys, trumpet), Casey Cranford (saxophone, EWI), Jesse Hensley (lead guitar), and Nick MacDaniels (vocals, guitar).
The first song and title track, Tumbleweed, features a floaty guitar solo that echoes in the void of a sandy desert trip. Tumbleweed conjures up feelings of desolation and introspection, the synthy tribal keyboards continually pushing the track forward. The lyrics have a decidedly psychedelic flavor, with lines like “Cactus tripping/ Glimpse the sun/ You’re just a bag of bones” reinforcing the themes of ego death and the insignificance of man in the vast expanse of the desert.
Song for Us ditches the darker feeling of the opening track in favor of an upbeat, reggae-inspired melody. This juxtaposition demonstrates the versatility of BIG Something, and cements the idea that this album is a journey, bringing the listener back and forth between light and darkness. The whistling synth and chunky bassline are incredibly catchy, and the tunneling guitar solo builds to an exultant peak by the end of the song. This segues nicely into Passenger, which features a galloping western rhythm. The melody and bassline remind the listener of a train thundering down a never-ending track, a theme that is echoed in the lyrics.
Blue Dream is a rather jammy instrumental piece that features some nice interplay between the various instruments. Chugging drums provide a steady backdrop for the guitar. The tone of the lead guitar on this track is worth mentioning, as it has a psychedelic southern rock flavor that plays very well with the desert imagery. Soaring guitar solos climb higher and higher through the middle of the song until they seem to shatter against the desert sky. UFOs are Real is a fun track with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about otherworldly encounters and government conspiracies. The song is noticeably danceable, featuring a funky bass line and several horn section breakdowns.
Every desert trip must culminate with an epiphany, and this seems to come in the form of the penultimate track, In the Middle. The vocals are reminiscent of surf-rock, and discuss the flawed balance of power in modern society. Waves provides a fitting end to the album with a powerful crescendo of an outro that dissolves into a synthy melody, which is eerily reminiscent of the opening moments of the first track.
Tumbleweed is a compelling album, pairing strong production with creative instrumentation and psychedelic lyrics. These tracks were obviously developed and tested in a live-setting, adding to the fluidity and diversity of the album. Tumbleweed will be released on February 24th, 2017.