My favorite 100 albums of all time: #83 ("Hallucination Engine")
Today's pick, Hallucination Engine by Material is a bit of a sharp departure from the likes of The Who, L7, Rollins Band, and the rest of the list so far – excepting, perhaps, Steven Jessie Bernstein.
Where I mostly go for straight-forward classic rock, hard rock, or alternative, Hallucination Engine mostly instrumental, or only features background chants or singing – and much of that not in English, so that the vocals are also treated as another instrument or texture in the fabric of the song.
Hallucination Engine is one of two records on this list that I bought based entirely on the strength of a review. When I got it home, I had little idea what to expect, just that it was highly recommended. Turns out, I really enjoyed it.
The first track, "Black Light," gives a pretty good indication of what to expect from Hallucination Engine. It's a mix horns, percussion, bass, and perhaps the kitchen sink if bandleader Bill Laswell felt like putting that into the mix. I really enjoy the percussion/drums on this one, just for the way that they anchor the piece while the bass and horns are free to go a little nuts.
I had hoped to find some live tracks from the album on YouTube, but no such luck.
"Mantra" begins with a rolling, gentle beat with a bass undercurrent that slowly mutates until it dominates the track. It also features some frenetic percussion on the tabla.
"Eternal Drift" has been panned in some reviews I've checked out online as being a little too monotonous or just going on too long. At just under eight minutes, I'd be happy if there were a remix that ran for 30 minutes or more. It alternates between some laid-back, jazzy horns, dominant bass, and trance-y guitar with some chanting/vocals layered in for effect. There's just a touch in some bits that reminds me of some of The Cure's more atmospheric music.
"Words of Advice" is the only track with vocals as the primary focus. Featuring William S. Burroughs, "Words of Advice" imparts wisdom for young people, such as:
Well here are a few simple admonitions for young and old
Never interfere in a boy-and-girl fight
Beware of whores who say they don't want money
The hell they don't
What they mean is they want more money
If you're doing business with a religious son-of-a-bitch
His word isn't worth shit
Not with the good lord telling him how to fuck you on the deal
Under Burroughs' jaded delivery, you have a solid jazz base with keyboards, bass, horns, percussion, and a little sprinkling of guitar here and there. If that's not enough Burroughs for you, and it may not be with a running time of only four minutes, Material also has The Road to the Western Lands. This is a seven track release, all of which feature Burroughs.
If pressed, I'd say that "Cucumber Slumber" is my favorite track on the album. "Cucumber Slumber" is a cover of a track from 1974 by Weather Report. In some spots it's almost note-for-note, but Material's take is much more dense, and feels completely timeless. (But do listen to the original as well if you have the chance – it is available on Google Play and probably Spotify and other services as well.)
"Medley: The Hidden Garden" and "Shadows of Paradise" are fairly long tracks by the standards of the 90s. Together they consume nearly 23 minutes. They're best enjoyed when you can sit back, close your eyes, and just enjoy the work. They also make perfectly good background music for working or reading, but you won't catch a lot of the nuances in the songs that way.
If you're looking for something well outside the mainstream, give Hallucination Engine a try. One caveat: When I first discovered Material I had little access to additional work by Laswell and company. Being able to dig up the backing musicians, related acts, and whatnot on YouTube, Google Play, and Spotify means I'm spending a lot of time checking out other records and bands. You, too, may find a Saturday afternoon has evaporated while track-hopping!