The Spice Lads with Blunt Objects – Minor Miners

 The Spice Lads with Blunt Objects – Minor Miners

The Spice Lads with Blunt Objects – Minor Miners – Album Review

Enjoy at your own risk — your aural palate may never be quite the same…

Ohhhhhhhh you know a statement like that is gonna get my attention, yes indeed.

And as “Icy Fingers” started up Minor Miners, I felt like I knew exactly what they were getting at.  It has certainly not escaped me that most things Bill Owens tends to pen his name too are a little on the strange side…and you can definitely see that I’ve celebrated that many times here on our pages this year in reviewing music he’s made as Blunt Objects and DID NOT!.  What can I say?  I dig the bizarre, the artistic, the creative folks out there that are unafraid to do things differently.  He’s teamed up with Jim Waters of The Spice Lads, who also happens to be the same Jim Waters you’ll find generally at the helm of the studio boards, mixing those Blunt Objects records I’ve been so enamored with.  I figured that even with them splitting the duties more down the middle on this particular album, I’d still find a whole lot to dig on.  How could I not?  Bill Owens is practically my spirit animal; I aspire to be this guy one day.

“Icy Fingers” does reveal that Minor Miners isn’t just as simple as being another Blunt Objects record with a different name…there’s more to it than that, and you can hear the differences right away.  A bit more involved in the music, a bit more freedom in the mix to get weird with it, more of a presence with the music and less of an emphasis on the vocals being the featured element…it’s more of a shared billing here, and that’s reflected in what we hear.  You’ll still hear Bill’s signature vocals without any major barriers in your way, which is something that I’ve long argued most singers don’t need to be so afraid of – turn that music UP y’all…it makes the songs sound bigger, and more often than not, we’ll still hear the words just fine.  This first cut has got an undeniable psychedelic thread to it, which I felt worked brilliantly…”Icy Fingers” was like what I’d imagine it would sound like if you crossed The Black Angels with The Beta Band.  Laidback poetry, with music that packs a serious punch of personality to match – I can wholeheartedly say Bill wouldn’t have ever signed onto this project if it was just gonna be something typical, so take that to the bank & cash it y’all…”Icy Fingers” sets the table with a tasty first track that has no problem establishing itself as different from whatever’s on your playlist right now.  The music is wildly imaginative and innovative too; it has throwback elements to its vibe, but at the same time, absolutely feels like it is better suited for this modern-day era we find ourselves in now.  It’s clear this collaboration is ready, willing, and able to color way outside the lines to fully draw us all in to listen.

Look.  You know I’m here to advocate on behalf of…hmm…pretty much whatever ain’t normal.  Or at least, that’s where I tend to get the loudest and most excited about what I’m listening to.  That doesn’t mean a few of you crazy cats out there don’t need to be reeled in every so often!  Just because the music is different or I like you more than most doesn’t automatically mean I’m out here giving things the thumbs up when I can’t rationally justify it, you follow me?  Like…I listen to “Shortwave Shockwave” and I probably hear it exactly the same way you do for example.  My first thought was, “man – I remember getting THAT high before!”  I’ll admit…there’s this like…just-don’t-give-a-flying-fuck attitude about a song like this that I am totally cool with – we’re not meant to understand or like everyone’s art or music all the time, and the creators shouldn’t be held hostage by some belief that we SHOULD.  The ONLY thing that they SHOULD be responsible to, is doing whatever the heck they wanna do…that’s it, that’s all.  Obviously, when you put things out into the court of public opinion, you get jerks like me that’ll tell ya this or that about whatever the heck…but even that shouldn’t significantly change the course you’re on.  Do what you do because you love to do it, simple as that.  In fact, I’d argue that’s the biggest draw in a song like “Shortwave Shockwave” to me…the fact that I know these two dudes, Jim and Bill, are likely having the time of their life making music like this – and rightly so they should be!  Is it a track for the average everyday listener out there?  Heck no!  The squares ain’t gonna get this!  But even us proud trippers like myself are hangin’ on by our fingernails trying to figure out how we can stick with this one.  There are some absolutely killer ideas in the production happening here…as an audiophile, listening to the layers of vocals floating in & out through this song as it plays on is worth the price of admission to me, but let’s be crystal clear here – this is the kind of track that is best enhanced with the devil’s lettuce.

Ain’t no fun to be found in a track like “She Died Today” – this duo of talents switches directions in a distinct 180-degrees, and instantly plunge you into a morbid track that feels as desolate as it truly is.  It’s a grim tale, more by implications and where it’ll send your mind than anything too direct, but grim all the same.  We feel the heaviness in the vibe of a track like “She Died Today,” and of course we can recognize the weight in its theme as well.  Bill does a great job in singing this tune…I love that he’s got that slight hint of distortion or edge to his vocals too…all-in-all, there’s a lot about this record that feels like Owens has happily let Waters take the wheel to see where things might go, and I’m really enjoying how different this actually is from so much of what I’ve heard in Blunt Objects.  Doesn’t mean I think it’s BETTER – I’m not necessarily saying that – but I do like being able to hear things turning out differently in a different project, know what I mean?  Think of 95% of the bands that have a member split off to go solo, and how way more often than not, the music simply seems like a watered down version of what they were already making before.  I like it when artists go into something new with the intentions of DOING something new, you know what I mean?  Minor Miners is like that, and songs like “She Died Today” are the unquestionable proof.  So while I might not have been as thoroughly convinced about “Shortwave Shockwave” or “She Died Today” quite as much as I was with “Icy Fingers” at the start, I still find myself really appreciating how unique this collaboration is and all the things it’s doing differently.  I’m absolutely impressed with the production and the effects that are being used on “She Died Today,” and I’m all for a thematic & moody curveball that seems to come right outta left field like this song does.

So…I suppose what I’m saying is, the quality is there.  Really, that’s all you can ever ask of art & music – the rest merely comes down to personal taste, and the random opinions of A-holes like me out there.  “No Gondolas In My Hometown” wins the award for song title…no doubt about that.  I am actually very impressed by the melody in the music of this song, though admittedly, I’m both unsure about whether or not they capitalized on what it could contribute, and practically certain that it’s buried so damn deep in the mix that it’s practically like the driest joke you could ever experience.  Most people wouldn’t even know that it’s there!  In any event, subject-wise, I certainly sympathize.  There are “No Gondolas In My Hometown” either, unfortunately.  I was never quite able to put my finger on what sucked so bad about where I came from, but I feel like that’s been illuminated now.  Absolute LACK of gondolas.  An outright embarrassing shortfall.  I suppose I could justify that because there’s not enough water to support their existence really…but c’mon…is that really an excuse?  Nothing should stop a gondola from gondoling as far as I’m concerned…if there’s no water around, perhaps they just need to try harder on land.  Maybe gondolas need to want more for themselves.  My point is, it’s not OUR fault – it’s probably theirs.  It doesn’t change anything about this horrific absence of gondolas I now find myself in…I’m gonna need that sea level to keep on a-rising to Kevin Costner-like proportions if that’s ever gonna change I reckon.  Did I mention that “No Gondolas In My Hometown” is quite an odd tune?  No?  Well…it absolutely is.

“Blue Monday” should be able to siphon off a bit of that internet traffic trying to locate that New Order song they love…or if they’re savvy, the arguably superior cover version by Orgy.  In any event, this song isn’t that…though you’d probably expect it would be given that there really ain’t too many tracks that have “Blue Monday” as its title.  And you know…for as much time as I’ve spent listening to this record over this past week or so, I still have no real idea about how I feel towards “Blue Monday” – sometimes that still escapes us critics.  It’s not necessarily a complete indication of indifference, but it’s probably a closely related cousin.  I feel like I appreciate pieces of this track, but was never all that sold on the whole thing at the end – make sense?  Like…there are plenty of stellar ideas in the music, the vocals are on target, and there’s a significant amount of contrast in the energy shared between them as well, which is usually something I go for.  I really love what I hear in the backing layers of vocals on “Blue Monday” – that’s probably my favorite element of this particular tune.  Other than that, I guess this song was likely a bit too push/pull for me, despite my love of contrast…I was never really sure the music actually fit the vocals, and vice versa on this particular track.  Sounds like a theoretically rough start to the week, so it’s probably better that I release this review of “Blue Monday” on a Friday for ya instead.

As devastating as much of the theme in “Hands On You” genuinely IS…I think there’s a definite argument to be made that this song is quite likely the most accessible track on the record AND one of its best too.  It’s either about a relationship that is taking place over a savagely long distance that is altogether hard to enjoy, or it could just as easily be about a relationship that is now permanently in the rearview too – either way you slice it, I suppose “Hands On You” is about dealing with the absence of love, specifically more in the physical sense in terms of this particular track.  I’m a sucker for melody…and I love the way that Bill sings this one…I love the way that Jim has got him sounding in the mix…I dig the dreamy vibe this song has as well.  It’s by no means any typical kind of love-song that you’d feel like you’ve heard before, and even that deserves its due credit…it ain’t easy to make a love-song that’s unique anymore.  “Hands On You” is almost an anti-love song in a way if you think about it…we spend a whole lot of time mired in what Bill’s singing about going without, as opposed to time spent right there in the moment of a shared space, like you find in the majority of love-songs.  Someone at least get Owens on Skype or Zoom though eh?  Dude’s clearly suffering a bit here, and it’s concerning.  He’s already had to reckon with a nasty lack of gondolas in his hometown, and now here we are, the love he’s looking for is at the very least, miles and miles away from him…approximately 3000 according to the lyrics.  Don’t get it twisted though – this IS a love-song, and at the core of it all, it’s actually quite beautiful.  It resonates.  I feel the pain of being away from the one you love through the sincerity of the way Bill sings this song, and Jim has found exceptional ways to bring that emotion out in the way the melody in the music works.  I’m just gonna call it like I hear it y’all, cause that’s what I do best – this is my favorite cut on this album.  Ain’t that rich?  The guy that says he advocates for the weird tracks picks the most ‘normal’ song of all?

“Forever” makes for a solid ending…to me, it’s actually an up close examination of the fragility of time and an admission of how increasingly finite it is as you’re busy living life.  “The universe is indifferent to any plans I’ve made” sings Bill…and in true Blunt Objects fashion, you’ll notice that the final tracks on the albums tend to reveal a few more brutal truths than the majority of the songs will along the way.  Like, take the chorus of this last track for example:  “forever, for me, is not such a long time anymore.”  The coldness of that realization is powerfully reflected in the music you’ll find in this tune…almost like it’s a mechanical machine that’s simply gonna run out of batteries one day…which in a way, I suppose is what we are.  The batteries might be organic, but they’re batteries all the same.  Our mortality is a tough subject to put right under the microscope…I’ve commended Bill for doing it before, and I’m commending him for doing it now…there’s really no point in shying away from it given that it eventually affects us all.  There’s a lot of character in this last track…it’s almost got like…an Eastern-tinged vibe at the core of its melody too…or something on the exotic side of sound, you know what I mean?  It a quality ending to what’s been an adventurous record, filled with all kinds of creativity and inspired experimentation.  It’s got peaks and valleys, like anything you’ll find on the artistic/experimental side of sound would have, but the uniqueness you’ll find, they proudly own, and wield like the asset it truly is.

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