Graded on a Curve: Chrome,
Feel it Like a Scientist

Via the designs of crucial member Helios Creed, underground rock stalwarts Chrome have returned with another blast of fresh and very welcome psych-punk. Feel it Like a Scientist offers Creed leading a crack band through a generous running-time as they extend deep into the 21st century a template honed in late-‘70s San Francisco.

Momentarily setting aside matters of quality, the appearance of new Chrome material in 2014 relates an interesting story and one with little in the way of music scene precedent. To begin, Feel It Like a Scientist is the latest chapter in a narrative finding veteran guitarist Helios Creed continuing the saga commenced by Damon Edge in the steaming guts of the mid-‘70s.

Make that the late Damon Edge; prior to his death in ’95, Chrome shifted in personnel numerous times, though the outfit’s strongest period began once Creed entered the fray in ’76. While the pre-Helios debut The Visitation is worth investigation by serious fans, the sparks that flew from the creative permutation of Edge and Creed remains integral to Chrome’s reputation as one of the most important and least typical experiences to be born from first-wave US punk.

In short, ‘77’s Alien Soundtracks and 79’s Half Machine Lip Moves are must acquisitions for any well-rounded punk collection, and furthermore Red Exposure, Blood on the Moon and 3rd From the Sun, albums issued between ’80-’83, the rhythm section on the last two John and Hilary Stench, aren’t far behind.

Creed quit Chrome after 3rd From the Sun and in leaving frankly took much of the vibrancy with him. Edge and his wife and collaborator Fabienne Shine relocated to Paris and kept at it both solo and under the Chrome handle, but the endeavors missed the outbound scorch of his union with Creed. As said, the guitarist’s stuff for Sub Pop and Amphetamine Reptile did a better job of locating the oomph if not necessarily the breadth of Chrome at their best.

Not anything particularly unusual thus far, though post Edge’s passing the plot gets considerably more curious. On paper, Creed’s reentrance into the Chrome scenario might read as an admirably intentioned assist at assembling the loose ends of an interrupted musical legacy, but in fact he’s chalked up six full-lengths since ’97; that total includes 2013’s emergence of lost tracks from ’79-’80, Half Machine From the Sun and Feel it Like a Scientist.

On this latest effort, Creed has assembled a distinct lineup of old and new names. Joining Creed, drummer Aleph Omega, bassist Lux Vibratus, and synth/keyboardist Tommy Grenas are vocalist Anne Dromeda (aka conceptual/video artist Monet Clark), guitarist Lou Minatti (aka Keith Thompson), and bassist Steve “Trash” Fishman.

Given Creed’s extensive Chrome output what’s achieved on Feel it Like a Scientist shouldn’t be especially surprising. However, the increased profile inspired by that highly impressive recovery project of last year has carried over and, at least in this writer’s case, raised the expectations somewhat; happily, opener “Nephilims (Help Me!)” wastes no time in quashing disappointment.

Beginning with positively corrosive amp-residue and quickly springing into a keyboard-laced, effects-laden stomp, the cut immediately establishes the acid-punk model that’s made Chrome such an enduringly vaunted entity. It also features modulated vocals figuring prominently across the ensuing 15 tracks, these enhancements likely to remind many of similar treatments by the Butthole Surfers, notably from around their ’88 LP Hairway to Steven.

But of course the Texas crew, like various others in ‘80s u-ground rock, was to some extent actually absorbing the impact of Chrome’s prime work (Creed later contributed to a pair of tunes on the Surfers’ Independent Worm Saloon). After an extended passage of twisted shape-shifting psych, “Prophecy” settles into a galloping thud thick with distorted bass, swells of keys, and a dual guitar maul. The slow fadeout on Dromeda’s distant voice provides a nice touch.

An early standout arrives in “Lipstick,” the selection combining an unwavering mid-tempo beat and cascades of atmosphere cribbed from the New Wave (of which Chrome was a left-field component) with an overload of effects mayhem perhaps reminiscent of the Surfers at their most outlandish (much of Psychic Powerless, for instance). It’s equal parts bent and catchy and leads quite nicely into the spacey chugging of “Lady Feline,” the environments of both cuts further explored on “Something in the Cloud” through a beat so insistent it becomes legitimately infectious.

“Six” is the closest Feel it Like a Scientist comes to a straight-up rocker, though most examples of the style lack this much bass thunder. And “Unbreakable Fluoride Lithium Plastic” sounds just a bit like young Pink Floyd if they’d chosen to Hail Satan, the singing recalling not Syd but John Lydon. It ends with a loop of advertising-speak curdling into the ominous.

Opening caustically and at a gradual pace, in due time “Captain Boson” bursts into a rhythm that’s undeniably danceable if still downright heavy as it lends an ample platform for copious string spazz and some Horror Chiller Theater-style vocals. “Big Brats” continues the ass-shimmying potential, though it’s intertwined with a chunky and hugely Metallic riff (unsurprisingly, Chrome was covered by NYC metallers Prong in ‘89). And during the too brief freak-show clucking of “Brady the Chickenboy,” the band scores a nifty bizarro power move.

Feel it Like a Scientist initially connects as effective but fairly uncomplicated, but the low-tech rhythmic throb and appropriated audio of “Slave Planet Institution” nods to the properties that have historically ensconced Chrome as a key cog in the formative movements of the Industrial machine. These elements give way to the extended psych-punk of “Cyberchondria” before the layered “HimalayanElimination” reveals an incessantly rigid drum pattern remindful of the stronger results in the early merger of Industrial and Dance Music.

From there “The Mind” unfolds slow-build psychedelic swagger with more than a trace of strychnine gnaw, and it’s followed by the stinging expansiveness and foreboding found-audio-laced pulse of “Systems Within Systems.” And this brings us to the mildly-collage-like sonic drift of “Nymph Droid” delivering not a culminating bang but an appealingly immersive sense of closure.

Up above I mentioned how almost nothing stuck out that seemed comparable to Creed’s extended carrying of the Chrome torch; the exception hovering in the periphery of my thoughts was the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen. But it’s ultimately a minor similarity; while Helios-era Chrome remains intelligently tethered to Edge’s sway (one song here bears his lyrics), it’s an unfussy connection, not a tribute or as in Allen’s Arkestra the admirable prolongation of a departed artist’s lifework (though Half Machine From the Sun could give that impression).

The first 20 years of Chrome securely belonged to its founder, but the last two decades of the group’s tale have been defined by Helios Creed; Feel it Like a Scientist emphasizes this circumstance with aplomb.


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