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Jam Room Magic: Sierra’s Pslip

Retro Futurist

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Once in a while—as if by magic (but music, after all, is magic, isn’t it?)—I come across a voice, a sound, a band, a riff, a melody, an arrangement, or (most ideally) a combination of all of these that hits the sweet spot. The responsible band or artist becomes a part of my life. I end up rooting for them, wanting other people to discover them, listen to them, and make them what they already are: larger than life.

“Larger than life”—these are the very words that crossed my mind when I heard the second cut on the power trio Sierra’s first album, Pslip (which the band recorded in Columbia, South Carolina’s Jam Room). The boys are from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and the song’s called “Little Smoke.” It begins with some slowly strummed chords (some Sabbath doom, anyone?), but then the magic possesses you. Guitarist-singer Jason Taylor hammers out one of the coolest riffs you’ll hear this year, over the top of which he sings a soaring and catchy melody that makes the tune powerful and instantly unforgettable. Robbie Carvalho’s bass playing in the chorus isn’t to be denied either.

What you get with “Little Smoke” is not only the birth of a great band, but something more—the assertion of Taylor as a singing- and guitar-playing superstar. Think Cobain. He’s that tuneful, that powerful.

The masterful riffing continues throughout Pslip. Taylor gives you an indelible minute of guitar on “Control Folly,” before he starts singing. This song swings (also hear the noisy and swampy instrumental “Psquigalogz”), with Taylor’s vocals in lockstep with the rest of the band, and builds to a fast barrage of heavy music that accelerates the tune to its conclusion.

“100” proves that Sierra isn’t a one-trick pony. Beginning as a ballad, the song deftly moves between tempos, between sweetness and sludge, with Taylor again showing his brilliance, this time in a guitar solo that seemingly combines blues, psychedelic, and noise rock. Hear it to believe it—it’s probably everything you love about rock and roll.

Pslip producer and Kylesa leader Phillip Cope joins Sierra on “Into Nothing,” which has Carvalho’s grooviest bassline (Carvalho sounds like Geddy Lee here) on the record, as well as some of Taylor’s most exciting guitar work (just listen to his solos!). Cope’s screamed vocals match Taylor’s more melodic vocals, so much so that the two singers make you realize that this is the heaviest cut on the record—and, perhaps, its catchiest.

And then there’s the epic. The 9:00 “Pseptember” holds you breathless. A monstrous Taylor riff sets a mood that’s simply mountainous and empowering, elevating you on heights of distortion. The words are ominous, as is the slower tempo that comes in about halfway though. Former drummer Sam Hill shows his drumming dexterity as the tempos change—but what truly makes this song, which sounds like the love child of Mastodon and Sabbath you’ve always wanted to hold, is Taylor’s beautiful, atmospheric playing near the tune’s conclusion.

Sierra’s debut LP is so wrought with high-octane power, crunching riffs, catchy melodies, and good old-fashioned rock and roll that you’ll want to hear it over and over again. And Jason Taylor and his bandmates are making music that’s not only fresh but also necessary.

It’s time to welcome Pslip and Sierra’s formidable frontman into your record collection.