I hate jam bands. Not only does the music of Phish and Widespread Panic and Moe make my toes curl, but I find the idea of backcombing hair into Medusa-esque swarms of stinky tendrils ridiculous and an unfortunate childhood injury makes it impossible for me to form a peace sign with either hand. To say it plainly, I hate hippies and their music. I do, however, love the Allman Brothers, Cream, Blue Cheer, and Deep Purple — bands that have unfairly been lumped in with the aforementioned Bonnaroo headliners thanks to the cannabis-fueled stupidity of their hybrid-driving disciples. Sure, Duane Allman was liable go off on a ten-plus-minute slide-guitar tangent and Deep Purple boasted organ passages that would make Ray Manzarek cry, but they were in no way jam bands. As Slowhand would tell you, these bands merely passed 1-4-5 blues progressions through a few Marshall four-by-twelves. Like these seminal heavy metal bands, Tia Carrera could quite easily be erroneously included with the String Cheese Incidents of the world. And that, my friends, would be a travesty.
The music of Austin’s other favorite trio is entirely instrumental, but it is in no way jammy. On “Tone, Levels and THC,” glorious feedback gives way to wah-drenched solos, snaky bass lines and sternum-popping drums. Like all of the band’s material — save the occasional cover — “Tone” is an amorphous, meandering improvisation that flies in the face of modern-day jam-band tradition: no snarky lyrics or jittery rhythms here. Instead, “Tone” pummels the listener for almost eight solid minutes with plodding, purposeful rhythms courtesy of Erik Conn and the consummate guitar wankery of Jason Morales. Throughout the untitled release (the band’s second for Australian Cattle God Records), Morales continues to demonstrate his mastery of the instrument. But he too would be just another Guitar Center hero if it weren’t for the consistently complementary work of his rhythm section (rounded out by Andrew Duplantis). This “musical telepathy” is what makes an improvisational triumvirate like Tia Carrera truly special.
The band’s flawless execution allows each composition to begin to embody a distinctly physical phenomenon: an ocean. When the band lays back, it’s as if the tide has begun to recede; things become distinctly quieter despite the ceaseless whoosh of the crashing waves. One such valley on “Valentine Blues” typifies this musical vacuum. The bass grinds to a halt while Morales’s guitar becomes sparse and jabby. And then as the band begins to coalesce, the musicians ascend out of the sea, only to crest and come crashing down upon the bewildered listener. Even when they are joined by an organ and laptop (unexpectedly modern for these unabashed throwbacks), the band remains unfazed. As they conjure the spirit of the now-defunct Mystick Krewe of Clearlight on “End Transmission,” the band incorporates the rotating speaker-equipped Leslie perfectly, and the addition of a phase-laden laptop on the aptly named “Countdown, Lift Off” lends a decidedly spacey twist to the work.
As any third-grade grammar student will tell you, homonyms are a pain. They do, however, allow me to say the following: Tia Carrera is in no way a jam band, but its members sure know how to kick ’em out.