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Light Up and Live [Digipak]
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  • With a name like Harsh Toke, you might know what you're in for. Heavy, relentless blues-metal guitar in constant jam mode with no off switch? Pounding drums and fuzzy, incense smoke-reeking basslines? Swimming psychedelia of the most impaired variety? Harsh Toke deliver all of the above on their debut full-length album Light Up and Live, with just four tracks stretching into some cosmic exploration over the album's 40-odd minute running time. Like a hazy dream, the band segue from the Sabbath-worshiping album-opener "Rest in Prince" directly into a breakdown of random percussion and watery flutes on the beginning of the epic suite "Weight of the Sun," which transitions from its gentle Popol Vuh-reminiscent beginnings into a loopy, narcotic blur of delayed guitars and screaming organ nightmares. Clearly from the same school of jamming and mind expansion that gave us great albums like Sleep's Dopesmoker, but dialing back the heavy doom and dread that characterized that record, Harsh Toke gets into stoner jams as unhinged, ecstatic, and wandering as some of the greats. There's a slight cartoonishness that comes with the revivalism of acid rock's early days, but despite weed-centric titles like "Light Up and Live," Harsh Toke mostly keep the focus on their restless, druggy rhythms and the interplay between guitarist Justin Figueroa's endless edge-of-the-world soloing and vocalist/organist Gabe Messer's psychedelic keyboard washes. The band even get into more outlandish territory on the ten-minute album-closer "Plug Into the Moon," with the addition of a saxophone player as wild and unglued as the rest of the band in his epic jamming. The song recalls the same wanton, desperate energy of "L.A. Blues," the sax/noise closer to the Stooges Fun House, and it constructs similar walls of unhinged noise, menace, and transcendence with its barrage of sound. ~ Fred Thomas
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