Speed Freaks 

After a five-year hiatus, The Crystal Method brings that beat back to the block.

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There’s one thing that’s always going to piss Ken Jordan off: when people compare his band, The Crystal Method, to Britain’s Chemical Brothers. When Method’s debut, Vegas, came out in 1997, critics fumbled over each other to claim the Las Vegas natives as America’s answer to The Chems. “We always joked, ‘What was the question?’” Jordan laughs. “We absolutely hate that. It’s ridiculous. We make different records, completely different records.”

Sound Affects

SOUNDTRACK Rat Race (Beyond) The biggest crime against humanity and music contained in the soundtrack for an equally crappy movie is not the zillionth usage of the Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?” nor Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” No siree, it’s the “rock & roll” debut of ferret-lipped pinhead Orrin Hatch, Utah’s own songwritin’ senator, on “America Rocks.” Dripping pure ’80s cheese through the processed production quality of a Holiday Inn karaoke bootleg, the Hatch-Perry Singers declare “If you see a great big smile lighting up my face/It’s because I know I live in a downright wonderful place”—and that’s just the first line! Sick, sick, sick and wrong, wrong, wrong. Somewhere, Billy Ray Cyrus is rolling over in his grave … What? Never mind.

THA LIKS X.O. Experience (Loud) The first album in four years from the artists formerly known as Tha Alkaholiks is a commercial sell-out? Yeah, whatever—tell it to Ben Affleck. Apart from a few new computerized beats and effects (as on the lead-off single “Best U Can”) and a noticeably deeper bass-thump production, X.O. Experience is a straight-up party record that sticks in the cranium—even outta-control Busta Rhymes scores a monster hook on his “Bully Foot” cameo. This isn’t always a good thing: The manic bassline/vocal riffage of “My Dear” threatens overload, but the Shaft-funk groove of “Bar Code” (featuring Xzibit) is sheer pimp perfection. Hell, the booklet photo of E-Swift paying homage to his flaming turntable (à la Jimi Hendrix) is worth the price alone.

VARIOUS ARTISTS Southern Music CD No. 5 (Oxford American) You have to buy a darned fine magazine (the Fifth Annual Oxford American Music Issue, of course, on stands now) to get this 23-track companion CD, and both are worth every last cent. Billy Bob Thornton singing, brace yourselves, “Ring of Fire” (with banjo maestro Earl Scruggs) is this year’s novelty bait, and even it’s an undeniably great cut. Known names like Dolly Parton (turning in a gorgeous, gal’s-still-got-it “Seven Bridges Road”), B.B. King, Emmylou Harris and Victoria Williams flow seamlessly with Toots Hibbert, Lynda Lydell (burning on a soul-injected take on En Vogue’s neo-classic “What a Man”) and Jim White, as well as golden Southern oldies like The Gants and the Delta Rhythm Boys (with Les Paul’s old-school shredding). There’s nary a weak nanosecond to be found, making this is possibly the only disc a real music lover would ever need—until next year’s collection, at least.

—Bill Frost

At that point, though, American journalists had to come up with something to spur on national pride. The media was prepping the U.S. for what was supposed to be an electronic coup d’état. British acts like Prodigy, The Chems and Tricky were all gearing up to return the U.S. to the musical colonialism of the late ’60s. We were already lagging a good decade behind European dance floors. If we didn’t have something better than The Byrds to claim as our own, we’d be forced to watch the Union Jack take over the charts again. America’s defenses were weak at best. Moby had just gone vegan rock. Cirrus was—and still is—just a blip on the scene. Our last line: The Crystal Method, with their funked-up big beats blasting like cannons at those glowstick-weilding redcoats.

Of course, none of that happened—at least in ’97. Sure, Prodigy gave feminists a big old wedgie with “Smack My Bitch Up,” and The Chems got some solid airplay out of “Block Rockin’ Beats.” But the electronic revolution never really happened. It just built up from the underground, seeping from clubs to commercials, with few even noticing before it was too late. Now it seems somewhat normal that Christopher Walken is shaking his ass to Fatboy Slim.

You can blame part of that on Method. The group’s first hit, “(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do,” made it safe for corn-fed kids to get their groove on, combining the thump of electro-enhanced bass with pure rock attitude. The track featured gritty guitars and vocals by Filter’s Richard Patrick. It was like the gateway drug for the electronic world, opening up the idea that dance music was more than just something for the wannabe Eurotrash set.

“We were always influenced by rock music,” Jordan says. “And while early on we went the same direction as the L.A. rave scene [the band’s first platter, “Keep Hope Alive” was a Cali rave anthem in ’94], we didn’t want to do that forever. We wanted to bring rock back into it, to show that they aren’t that different.”

To further prove the point, The Method spent two years on the road supporting Vegas. It was virtually unheard of. Few electronic acts dared leave the safe confines of sweat-soaked warehouses and early über-clubs. A guy crouched behind a laptop just isn’t that interesting. Add in the fact that during electronic music’s early years it was almost decreed that DJs couldn’t show their faces for fear it would detract from the music—see Daft Punk—and knob-twirlers spent as much time burning blacktop as they did brushing their teeth.

“Before we started touring, we really hadn’t seen too many good live electronic acts,” Jordan says. “It’s just not possible for a lot of them to tour. But we wanted to prove that an electronic band can put on a good live show.”

The Method’s dedication to the road is part of the reason why the group’s second album, Tweekend (Geffen), took five years to produce. (Jordan says the other reason is that “we’re really lazy.”) But it was worth the wait. Tweekend builds on Vegas’ billowing beats, keeping things bumping while adding gooey layers of malicious melancholy. Not that Tweekend is as depressing as a Robert Smith poetry reading. But it’s hard to find another electronic track as pissy as “Murder,” Scott Weiland’s seemingly soothing lyrics juxtaposing sex and serial killers—“The third time you’ll do anything to fuck her/ The last time you’re dead before the morning.”

While the rest of the disc doesn’t deal with such heady subject matter, the range of tones on the record—from the fuzzed-out scratches to the grumbling low-end to Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morrello’s snarling riffs—make it feel like a perfect fit for Satan’s housewarming party. “Tough Guy” comes off like a blacksmith working in Hell’s sweatshop. “Ready For Action” could be the theme song for when the machines take over. Only the first single, “Name of the Game,” could have done time on Vegas, the song keeping Method’s original rock-fortified big-beat vibe. Jordan says that Tweekend’s somber feel wasn’t an intentional thing, it just came out that way.

“It’s not like we said, ‘let’s make a dark, moody record,’” Jordan says. “We weren’t in a bad mood or anything. It was just the way the beats and the music came out.”

And it’s still coming. According to Jordan, Method not only has a slew of leftovers from the Tweekend sessions, but the duo is already working on new material as they tour the country. “Before, we just couldn’t do that,” he says. “We tried the studio-in-the-back-of-the-bus thing, and that’s fine when it’s not moving. But if you’re on the road, it’s really frustrating. Everything is moving around. There’s bumps. Now we have laptops that can actually do everything we need them to do. It won’t be another five years until the next one comes out, I promise.”

The Crystal Method with Uberzone and Static Revenger. Galaxy Plaza, 540 W. 200 South (behind Orbit Café), Thursday Aug. 16, 7 p.m.

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Jeff Inman

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