This is the debut album by an Oakland group that includes Greg Ashley, whose 2003 solo album ?Medicine Fuck Dream? was also released on Birdman Records. The blurred cover image of the band is an apt, if somewhat trite, visual representation of the music. The Gris Gris are clearly inspired by the anxious psychedelic rock of mid-sixties America, particularly the sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and their lead singer, Roky Ericson, whose signature banshee wail has made a deep impression on the young Ashley. The wake of reverb left by Ashley?s jangly guitar solos recalls the Link-Wray-on-acid style of Elevators guitarist Stacy Sutherland, as well.
There are clearly more influences on display here than just the Elevators. The band shares its name with possibly the weirdest debut record of the sixties, though only the brief but interesting instrumental "Plain Vanilla" goes anywhere near the voodoo boogie psych of that first Dr. John record. The somber, confessional tone of most of the album suggests an affinity for Low and other moody slow-rockers. Ashley?s voice bears a strong resemblance to Jack White?s, and the simple, stripped-down approach of the drummer is also sure to net comparisons between the Gris Gris and the White Stripes. There is even a dash of noise, with ?feedback mics? credited to one player on the album. But the record just barely succeeds in sounding like more than just an assemblage of influences.
On their tour this fall, the Gris Gris included a full-time organ player, whose presence is sorely missed on this record. Only on the haunting ?Every Time? is the organ played, with chilling results. The ?Hall of the Mountain King? riff of the bridge, played in unison by the guitar and organ, is intensely satisfying. ?Best Regards? also captures the dementia of bad-trip paranoia and anxiety, with rocking results. The final track, ?Summer Sun,? however, awkwardly ends an album mostly devoted to alienation and dislocation with a jaunty, tongue-in-cheek sing-along. It?s a welcome change of pace, but sounds a little tacked on in its album-ending slot. The gentle ?Me Queda Um Bejou? adds tasteful saxophone coloring to its simple and memorable melody, never-mind the awkward lyrics.
You probably won?t find this album on any ?best of the year? lists, but it doesn?t deserve to go unnoticed. The Gris Gris offered an intense live experience on their fall 2004 tour and had this album to offer as worthy reminder of some of the best aspects of the show. Hopefully, a second album will deliver on the ample promise and potential of this young band. 6/10 -- Sean Witzman (25 May, 2005)