Seminal stoner doom band Sleep last played Burque in 1994. Touring with the first incarnation of “Nik Turner’s Hawkwind Space Ritual” and Helios Creed, Sleep bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros recalls delirium—owed to a fever of 103—at that gig almost two decades ago. Originally from the Bay Area, Cisneros and his wife relocated to our burg a couple years ago. They moved so she could complete graduate field work, but he always enjoyed tour stops through the 505. Cisneros is content with life in Burque. And wherever he is, his focus is on work.
Via phone, Cisneros recounts intense rehearsal schedules for both stoner doom threesome Sleep and experimental drone trio OM. With a solo EP dropping tout suite on Drag City, albums in process for Sleep and OM, and having just exhaustively toured Europe with OM—from Berlin to Istanbul—he’s not resting on his laurels. He travels to Oakland for Sleep practice because guitarist Matt Pike lives there, and drummer Jason Roeder calls the North Bay home. For OM sessions, Brooklynite Emil Amos (Grails, Holy Sons) visits New Mexico. When the ubiquitous adjectival “stoner” arises, Cisneros' smirk is practically audible—he posits the “stoner” tag is frequently affixed to a cocaine and booze-fueled genre of subpar songcraft—but he acknowledges the term is a pop culture entity all its own.
At age 17, Cisneros had drummed for five years. After connecting with Chris Hakius, it became clear Hakius was the superior percussionist. Starting a band was their hearts’ desire, so Cisneros slung Hakius' bass on and—along with guitarists Pike and Tom Choi—San Jose doom foursome Asbestosdeath released three 7-inches before evolving into Sleep in the early '90s. Cisneros’ journey toward the bassist pantheon was unconventional, but Sleep’s reunion is welcome news for the influential group’s fans. Sleep is essentially a monster-fuzz paean to early Black Sabbath.
In 1992 Sleep’s second album, Holy Mountain, solidified their reputation as a paragon of tube amp-fetishing, Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer-worshipping stoner doom. Four years into work on its follow-up, Sleep found their collective labor collateral damage in a standoff between warring labels. London Records deemed the work un-releasable, but a bootleg titled Jerusalem was released in ’96.
The intense effort expended creating this work—seemingly all for naught—resulted in the group’s dispersal. All involved decided to put Sleep to bed, and the band went on hiatus in ’98. Pike formed High on Fire, and Cisneros and Hakius gave us OM. Hakius has since retired, and Cisneros, Amos and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe aka Lichens now comprise OM. Sixteen years post-hiatus, Sleep’s reformation sparked in 2009. Remastering Jerusalem with Southern Lord Records, said label released a band-approved, definitive version as Dopesmoker in May 2012.
Critical acclaim and popular demand prompted Southern Lord to re-reissue Dopesmoker on April 20, 2013. That gatefold double LP features double-black sleeve printing of Arik Roper’s artwork and 180 gram “Indica”-colored vinyl. THC isn’t required to achieve a potent contact buzz from heavy rotation of Dopesmoker on your hi-fi. But low-end amplitude of this magnitude is best experienced viscerally, so consider spending a night with Sleep and superb cellist/composer Helen Money—tourmate of acts ranging from Shellac to Morrissey to Nina Nastasia—at Sunshine Theater (120 Central SW) on Saturday, Jan. 4. The amps crank up at 9pm, and presale tickets are $18.
Dateline: Albuquerque, New Mexico, Jan. 5—No one is thinking about The Endless Summer and its host of honeys, hot rods and hodads. Truth be told, no one here in the drought-stricken Southwest ever really thinks much about surf at all. But don’t let that stop you from digging on a night of wake-it-and-shake-it rock and roll, conveniently scheduled right after post-Xmas doldrums and New Year’s Eve self-recrimination. It starts at a respectable time, 8pm, on Sunday, Jan. 5, at Sister (407 Central NW), and the gig is headlined by local masters of high desert surf noir, Phantom Lake.
Bud Melvin and Jessica Billey (Grave of Nobody’s Darling) join with Grave member Clifford Grindstaff and Roger Apodaca (Black Tie, GoMotorCar) on heroic instrumentals dripping with lazy but dynamic reverb. Despite the domino masks they wear, Phantom Lake are not desperadoes threatening to steal anything from you—except for outdated notions of what surf music is. Besides heavy tremolo and staccato beats, there’s not a lot here Brian Wilson or Dick Dale would recognize. Rather than waves, expect endlessly shifting dunes. The quartet rides through shimmering mirages into a brilliant but muted sunset. Darkness is coming, and creatures not glimpsed in daylight begin to stir. Things are about to get weird.
El Paso’s Miijas bring an uptempo take on surf with a decidedly garage aesthetic. Actually the surf sound here is quite a bit more obscure, and it's heard mostly in the lead guitarist’s tremolo that fronts a manic pop-punk assault. The music is jangly, melodic, catchy, fast and fun in the vein of pop-infused punk about 10 minutes before Warped Tour got hold of it and fucked things up altogether … and Billie Joe Armstrong began to believe that genius hype.
Opening is one of Albuquerque’s oldest garage-rockin’/trash-talkin’/unsteady-walkin’ bands that has ridden neither wave nor dune, but skateboards are another story. By “old,” I don't mean the age of the band—Get Action! is barely a year old—but the sum of the members’ collective musical experience, rocking New Mexico for 15 to 20 years each. With their riotous vocals landing somewhere between Robin Zander and Roger Daltrey, front man “Wild” Bill Bunting has broken heads—and probably hearts—fronting Dynamite Kegs and Ten Seconds to Liftoff. Axe slinger Ashley Floyd is known for his classic six-string attack—East Bay Ray-style—with The Gracchi. Zac Webb has delivered coolly solid basslines with acts like wham-glam-thank-you-ma’am The Foxx and—although he may prefer to forget about it—early Burque punk yobs Fuck Taco Bell. Stickman Jeffrey Jones pounded beats for the premiere incarnation of local Ritalin-punk legends Scared of Chaka. Then there’s Scott Brown, who also whips out some smoking guitar licks but I’ve barely met the guy, and I don’t know his musical history; that's shoddy journalism, but at least I’m honest. Five bucks gets you in the door. Ride the wave.