Album Review: The Stevenson Ranch Davidians – Life & Death

You’re not gonna believe it, y’all, but there’s yet another California band out there making some pretty fine nouveau psychedelia. Their name is a play on one of those wacky cults (remember the Branch Davidians?), and one of these days they too might be inciting blind loyalty from herds of people. I first happily happened upon The Stevenson Ranch Davidians on Myspace a couple years back, and they’ve gotten even better since then. Their newest album, Life & Death, is another exhibit in the case of California bands being above and beyond spectacular at the psychedelic musical arts. As you might expect, the twin themes of life and death are everywhere on the record, and are both handled artfully.

Opening track “Do You Feel Free?” deals with moderately hippy Utopian ideals of being free, or not, as the case may very well be in this day and age. Delivered against a warm, acoustic guitar, Dwayne delivers the case for shackles in a rich, glowing tone. It certainly sets the stage nicely for the rest of the record. “Cosmic Blues” was a favorite of mine from virtually the first note. Dreamy and languorous, it blankets you in a glorious wash of shoegaze, reminiscent of the finer days of the genre (and reminds me quite a bit like Mazzy Star, too). For my money, mixing psych with ‘gaze is as good as it gets. It’s a spellbinding song, and you’ll probably find yourself listening to it again and again and again (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything).

“Everybody Live” owes much to The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and takes the life and death thing head-on. “I don’t wanna die,” sings Dwayne, “cuz I can die anytime/I wanna live.” The song wanders through various pontifications on living and dying in a cautiously hopeful way, with a wonderful piece of guitar playing and an overall great sound. “Looking For A Line” has a really lovely little guitar intro, setting up a rather seductive sound, with Dwayne’s vocals sounding particularly come-hither as he weaves lines about lines. I can already imagine this one sounding absolutely killer live. “I’m A Man”, while the shortest song on the record, has a very late 60s vibe to it, and is yet another quality cut.

I love the freewheelin’ feel to “Feelin’ Good”, full of saucy guitar and with a decent groove to it. Lyrically, it opines on ennui, though the song sounds anything but jaded. “I feel like feelin’ good,” Dwayne sings, and this song goes a long way to that end. “I Wanna See” is another favorite, a spacey, sonic daydream. It moves with a gentle grace, tinged with sadness, and the result is something rather special.

I was a little behind on this one, as it’s a 2009 release and we’re just about halfway through 2010 now. But please don’t let my sluggishness deter you. Life & Death is highly recommended, and if you’re at all partial to the psych-meets-shoegaze sound, you’re in for a real treat here.

mp3: Cosmic Blues (The Stevenson Ranch Davidians from Life & Death)


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