The stars are beautiful, because of a flower that cannot be seen… The desert is beautiful, ” the little prince added. And that was true. I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams… “What makes the desert beautiful, ” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well… ” I was astonished by a sudden understanding of that mysterious radiation of the sands.
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery, La Petit Prince
It doesn’t take long for the desert to swallow you whole. Drive 10 minutes outside the false protective neon and LED orb of civilization into the might-as-well-be-infinite expanse of shifting sands of this Earth’s deserts, and you could be anywhere. The slow skyline of undulating dunes could be Morocco, Marrakech, the Mojave southwest, all fragrant with mesquite. Or you could be on Mars. There is nothing to orient one’s self by, apart from the constant constellations, to tell us where, or when, we might be. The emptiness can be annihilating, a rushing agoraphobia as the inky fanged gullet of the night sky threatens to swallow you into forgotten-ness. The emptiness can be terrifying, but it may also be awesome. The desert is a place of perspective and purification. Those that survive its irradiating sun and excoriating wind emerge cleansed, baked clean and vacant, like vulture-pecked cow skulls.
The desert is a place of renewal – of finding’s one true self, apart from society – in many/most of the world’s religions. From Jesus and his privations, to Buddha and the Boddhi tree, prophets turn to sand and sun to remove society’s twists and turns, to navigate their own souls. Or turn to Moses, with his unflagging faith as he led the Israelites to the promised land. One finds one’s self in the desert, must find their true orientation, with no landmarks, no leaders. Just the wind, the coyote howl, the sizzling mesquite, the sighing sands, the sickle moon.
So much of the imagery that we have of the American Southwest comes from cinema, particularly Westerns, even if some of those celluloid wastelands were actually shot in the Tabernas Desert, in Spain, or the hills of Castellucio, around Italy – just another layer to the ephemeral nature of the desert landscape. If we were to accept as true that places, and ideas, can inherit meaning, accruing associations, connotations, history, folklore, data, stories, and art of all kinds, the American desert, in particular, would be rather a bloodbath. From the actual atrocities of “Manifest Destiny” westward expansion, to its recreation for profit of Cowboy movies, to the vacant nihilism & lawlessness of No Country For Old Men, or the toxic revenge of The Hills Have Eyes, the American southwest seems to be tainted, blighted. Think of Stephen King’s/Richard Bachman’s alter-universe meta-fuck The Regulators/Desperation. There is some ancient, nameless evil, beneath those sands, some sickness.
Portland doom country nontet Roselit Bone strike out into this emptiness, to meet this darkness head on, to greet the rushing storm. Roselit Bone are serving as psychic charcoal, plunging into the mesquite, looking for holiness, seeking to exorcise the poison which, these days, manifests in rampant drug addiction, racism, poverty, and empty, bleak lives. Like Breaking Bad or True Detective, Roselit Bone seek the real desert dwellers – neon-lit dive bars off the highway, the only light for 50 miles, summoning apocalyptic clouds of insects against the night.
With an orchestral pallet of pedal steel guitar, mariachi horns, twangy tremolo rockabilly electric guitar, organ, and fiddle, it’s hard not to place Roselit Bone’s music on the sacred Western music continuum of Ennio Morricone and his progenitors. If Blister Steel were a movie, album opener and title track would alert you to the fact that this is a Cosmic Americana western, Alejandro Jodorowsky interpreting Tolkien for Native American tribes. “What I saw down there/I do not know/but I know that it was real/the king came drifting through the snow/with eyes as blue as blister steel.” It’s like The King In Yellow, the pestilential prophet of Dread Carcosa, walking through a silent sandstorm.
Once the stage is set, regular life resumes, with barroom brawler “With The Glint Of Your Horns”. Speaking of True Detective, the slow sad country waltz of “Leech Child” recalls The Handsome Family’s theme song for Season 2, “Far From Any Road, with its snarling bobcats and cracked earth. “Leech Child” crawls with the most tremendously opiated twang guitar you’re likely to hear this side of The Bang! Bang! Bar. This is like Roland S. Howard jamming with The Flying Burrito Brothers – ultimate doom country, and one of this album’s greatest moments. It erupts into a frenzy of fiery woodwinds and furious buzzsaw guitars, reminding us that this desert could be in Egypt, as well, with shades of both Sun Ra And His Arkestra, and even the Dead at the Great Pyramids in the ‘70s. It’s a glorious climax, that you will want to return to, again and again. It’s one of this year’s best songs, so far.
Roselit Bone possess so many of the best elements of amazing music from all over the world – from the Northwestern African slink of Ethiopian jazz, to cosmic spiritual freakouts, to classic country, to Mariachi and Mexican Ranchera. They inhabit them all, make them their own, blend them into a cohesive whole and yet fans of any of those genres would dig the hell out of Blister Steel. Those looking for hard-drinking, don’t-give-a-fuck country brawlers, or romantic honky tonk slow-dances, or those looking to zone out with hashish visions like Kubla Khan, will all fall in love with this record. Blister Steel is part of a very small, very elite set of albums expanding and exploring the cosmic consciousness of the American Southwest, joining Ennio Morricone, The Dirty Three, Mojave 3, Gram Parsons, The Handsome Family, and the Denver axis of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club/Munly & The Lupercalians. There’s not nearly enough records dowsing these vibes, and i, for one, would love to see that fixed.
Like The Little Prince quote at top, perhaps the holiness of the desert comes from knowing there is a well out there somewhere, some green gem oasis, with water buffalo, ibises, crocodiles, leopards, incense, and mystery. Or perhaps it is because there are explorers like Roselit Bone willing to go into the waste, to face the emptiness and tell us what they find. The American psychic landscape, of all kinds, desperately needs a’scrubbin’, at the moment, so those willing to pan like prospectors, toss out the bullshit, and risk a couple of bar fights along the way, are doing Good Work.
Blister Steel is out now on Friendship Fever
Check Out The Music Video For Title Track “Blister Steel”:
Roselit Bone are doing a full national tour to accompany the release of Blister Steel, culminating in a show at Portland’s very own Mississippi Studios on July 22, 2017. Make sure to catch them, if they’re coming to a town near you!
Roselit Bone 2017 Blister Steel Tour Dates:
Jun 23 Governor’s Cup Salem, OR
Jun 24 Lofi Seattle, WA
Jun 25 Ritval Tattoo Eugene, OR
Jun 26 Siren’s Song Tavern Eureka, CA
Jun 27 Café du Nord San Francisco, CA
Jun 29 The Crepe Place Santa Cruz, CA
Jun 30 HM157 Los Angeles, CA
Jul 01 The Golden Tiki Las Vegas, NV
Jul 02 Valley Bar Phoenix, AZ
Jul 03 Owls Club Tucson, AZ
Jul 04 The Farm Las Cruces, NM
Jul 05 Cactus Cafe Austin, TX
Jul 06 Super Happy Fun Land Houston, TX
Jul 08 Circle Bar New Orleans, LA
Jul 08 One Eyed Jack’s New Orleans, LA
Jul 09 The Earl Atlanta, GA
Jul 11 Hill Country DC Washington, DC
Jul 13 Hill Country New York, NY
Jul 14 Steel City Coffeehouse Hamburg, PA
Jul 15 Howlers Pittsburgh, PA
Jul 17 Subterranean Chicago, IL
Jul 19 Reverb Omaha, NE
Jul 20 Hi-Dive Denver, CO
Jul 21 The Olympic Boise, ID
Jul 22 Mississippi Studios Portland, OR