I’ve been thinking a lot about guitar rock lately; I’ve written here before that the only guitar records to really excite me in the last while were St Vincent’s self-titled, Noveller’s Fantastic Planet, and Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love. All three were wild, genre-pushing records, where the guitar playing wasn’t showy or flashy, but pushed the music forward in new, exciting direction, be it sliding riffs, crashing chords or sonic landscapes which sound a little like a bunch of things, but a lot like nothing else.
Now, Chris Forsyth comes to me with some primo recommendations: Pitchfork liked this record a bunch. He’s a fave of NYC Taper, who have seven recordings of him from 2015 to now (here’s a good one from a couple weeks ago). His live sets are covered with classic stoner rock covers, like “Cold Rain and Snow” (Grateful Dead) or “Calvary Cross” (Richard and Linda Thompson). The title of one of his originals is a nod to an infamous and unreleased Stones movie. With the Solar Motel, he’s got himself a classic rock quartet: two guitars, bass and drums.
Really, The Rarity of Experience it could be one of two things. It could be a dull retread of classic rock tropes, pointless jamming, and bad lyrics. Or The Rarity of Experience could be a set of improv-heavy, stoned-out guitar rock. Thankfully, this record is much more of the latter than the former. It’s interesting, with good playing and draws listeners in. And while things sometimes lag a bit, it’s generally a fun ride. Let’s dig in!
The Rarity of Experience opens with a crash, the whole band kicking in on “Anthem I,” where between bangs, the guitars clash in twangy bursts and a simple keyboard pattern holds things together; for “Anthem II,” the band starts into a chugging rhythm, letting Forsyth spread out with his playing. At turns, it’s reminiscent of 70s rock, but elsewhere it’s a showcase for his playing, where he wrestles with his fretboard and weaves between the band’s driving backbeat.
A second set of two-part tracks immediately follows: “The Rarity of Experience,” where Forsyth and company chug along while his lyrics evoke “Mystery Train” and “Hear My Train A-Coming,” both classic rock staples. “I hear my train a-coming,” he sings, “I been gone for so long, I lost another friend.” By the end of part two, his guitar’s been pitched up so high it squeaks and he’s singing about coming back home on that same train.
Although both the opening sets are about average song length, elsewhere on the The Rarity of Experience, Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel really stretches out into lengthy jams: “High Castle Rock,” “Harmonious Dance,” and their cover of “Calvary Cross” all are about ten minutes long each. That’s a lot of jamming for any guitar band – even Neil Young’s records generally have only one or two songs that long – but Forsyth and the Solar Motel band generally rise up to the challenge; for example, “High Castle Rock,” slowly builds up the tension in a way recalling Television’s first LP Marquee Moon: it crashes and threatens to fall back on itself, but keeps rolling forward until the band peaks and the momentum takes both guitars into the stratosphere and everything else drops away.
However, it doesn’t always work as successfully: their Thompson cover is a little too faithful to the original and doesn’t have the same power as the rest of their long jams. Here, Forsyth’s vocal delivery seems hesitant, like he doesn’t want to do the song wrong. Also, his guitar playing seems similarly restrained, like he’s trying to sound like Thompson: compare his twanging, slow-burning solo to Thompson’s on the Watching the Dark box set.
Perhaps the most interesting track here, however, is the one where they throw in some wild elements. On “The First Ten Minutes of Cocksucker Blues,” Forsyth uses an effects pedal and a chugging, start-stop rhythm and the band chugs along for a few minutes, stopping on a dime; after a beat, a horn comes out of the mix and the group slowly feels their way along, small touches of guitar and drums coming out of the ether. Soon they keep pushing the tempo along and a saxophone comes out of the mix. It’s remarkable, a jam evoking Miles Davis’ 1974 classic “He Loved Him Madly,” but with a propulsive rhythm guitar. I think it’s the best cut on this record and some of the best jamming I’ve heard all year.
As a whole, Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel’s The Rarity of Experience has a lot of nice guitar work and expansive jamming. For those already inclined, it’ll be a great listen: it’s probably one of the best pysch-rock records I’ve heard all year. But for those on the fence, it’s a little harder to recommend: maybe you have the patience for one ten-minute extended jam, but for four of them? I think there’s enough here to keep most people interested, though.
Freelance writer and music fan, whose writing has appeared on The Good Point, The Toronto Review of Books, and CTV.ca, among other places. Favorite albums: Dig Me Out, Live-Evil, Decade.