Sound Tribe Sector 9: Ad Explorata

RIYL: Disco Biscuits, Pretty Lights, EOTO

Ad Explorata is Sound Tribe Sector 9’s follow-up to 2008’s Peaceblaster, an album that delivered more of the live immediacy the band is known for. But the jamtronica stalwarts are also known for constantly pushing the boundaries with their sonic explorations, so it’s not shocking to hear the band shifting direction again. STS9’s continued experimentation with electronic technology has driven a few old-school fans away, for it was the band’s instrumental skills that set them apart as a pioneer in blending rock with electronica. But the band’s continually growing fan base knows that STS9 uses modern technology as just one more tool in their musical arsenal, without becoming slaves to it.

“Phoneme” opens the album with almost eight minutes of atmospheric vibe, serving as sort of an appetizer that sets a spacey tone before the giving way to “Heavy,” where trippy synths and hard-rocking percussion conjure some of the classic STS9 sound. “Looking Back on Earth” brings a cosmic vibe indeed, but with drummer Zach Velmer powering the tune’s deep groove with a heavy attack. The psychedelic synth work is definitely the star of this album, with bassist David Murphy and guitarist Hunter Brown often joining keyboardist David Phipps in the synth and sampling mayhem, as they increasingly have been onstage. But while Brown’s tasty fretwork is perhaps at too much of a shortage here, most of the songs are well-served and probably inspired by the synth-heavy formula. Longtime fan favorite “EHM” receives overdue studio treatment and the tune is a keeper. Inspired by author John Perkins’ best-selling “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” the epic song about the folly of predatory capitalism opens with a spooky vibe that builds slowly but surely into a monster groove that epitomizes just how dynamic the band can be with multiple synths. Percussionist Jeffree Lerner adds some heady cowbell work (even though it too is from a synth) as the song explodes into an up-tempo jam.

“Atlas” is another major highlight, featuring Velmer at his dynamic best over a majestic sonic tapestry that feels like it could be the soundtrack for a Rebel Alliance assault against the Empire. “Re:Stereo” takes listeners on more of a down-tempo journey, while “Central” brings things back up into another spacey groove before “Lion” drops an intense rocker similar in vibe to “Atlas.” The new album isn’t going to win back that smaller demographic of old-school fans that drifted away when the band started using more synths and samples in the middle part of the past decade. But it’s another strong collection of sonic explorations demonstrating that STS9 is a band that will never be content to hit auto-pilot. (1320 Records 2009)

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