4 Zero/Royal Potato Family
San Francisco’s Mushroom have perfected the art of instrumental experimentation, in part because they’ve had plenty of time to do so. The loose and ever-revolving collective of Bay Area musicians – orchestrated by the steady hand of bandleader and percussionist, Pat Thomas – have altogether released a dozen albums in its nearly two decades of operation. Their latest effort, Naked, Stoned & Stabbed, comes on the tail end of a three year recording break in which the troupe passed its time by reinventing Pete Townshend’s 1971 rock opera, Lifehouse, an inspiration to their current release. Further citing influence by master of folk-abstraction Sandy Bull, jazz luminary Alice Coltrane, and afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, the 13 tracks of Naked, Stoned & Stabbed come as a certified, heady trip.
Glimpsing bucolic innocence (“Infatuation”), psychotic instability (“Walking Barefoot in Babylon”), and seemingly everything between, Naked, Stoned & Stabbed functions as a veritable soundscape shaped by the extremities of human imagination. Songs come in a variety of manners from duets to octets, their names ordinary (“Indulgence”) to extraordinary (“The Freak Folk Walk by Dressed Up for Each Other”), and their sounds domestic (“Celebration at Big Sur”) to exotic (“Under The Spell”). But the most compelling through-line of Naked, Stoned & Stabbed remains its vulnerable, unguarded experience of human emotion. With nary a hook, lyric, or gimmick to distract, listener attention is wholly surrendered to the ebb and flow of unscripted sound, set adrift on the psychic waters of Mushroom’s explorations, and reduced to the most immediate of moments, resulting in an album experienced not by song, but rather by second.
Musicianship is always set at a premium on Naked, Stoned & Stabbed, and so it would have to be with the sheer variety of sound captured throughout. A Western-style, Brian Eno-ish ambience – particularly at the hands of guitarist, Josh Pollock and keyboardist, Matt Cunitz – comes often skewed to the East by way of sitars, and a mixture of African, Latin, and Indian percussion (“Tariq Ali”). Pump organ, vibraharp, and flutophones further cast the Celtic gambol of “You’re Not Where You Belong” and celestial sojourn of “All The Guitar Players” in a light that solidifies the sense that Kansas is indeed a very long ways away. A remake of Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers’ collaboration, “Singing a Song in the Morning,” finds Mushroom closing the album with an unexpected vocal delivery. Coming off like The Byrds fronted by Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken, the question begs asking: why don’t they do that more often?
Naked, Stoned & Stabbed is Mushroom’s first recording in three years and was recorded in all of a weekend. But it’s precisely this impromptu spirit that brings out the inspiring emotional candor of these instrumental tracks. Like a super group comprised of Phish mid-jam, Coltrane mid-frenzy, and Leo Kottke mid-emotion, they are Mushroom, and this is Naked, Stoned & Stabbed.