Nerftoss' 'Maiden Powers,' mescaline, and Baltimore's new chill

Here's what immediately came to mind while listening to Nerftoss' stoned, soigné "Maiden Powers," released earlier this week on Ehse Records: age 15, a friend and I at some dumb party, high on mescaline (purchased from a gigantic Juggalo who made us smoke weed with his 9-year-old brother to buy the stuff), batting a bright orange Nerf-brand football back and forth for 45 minutes or so without it ever touching the ground. It was glorious and there were people there who were not out of their minds tripping balls who can attest that this did indeed actually happen (it certainly isn't inconceivable—after all, Pittsburgh Pirate Dock Ellis once pitched a no-hitter on LSD). Playing on the CD player on a loop while this happened was German hypnotist duo Neu!'s 'Hallogallo,' a 10-minute-and-seven-second-long robo-psychedelic slow-build of eerily on-point drumming and impossibly unfunky chicken-scratch guitar, with itty bitty blobs of electronics expanding and contracting in the background.

Obviously this sad-weird-epic memory came to mind because of Nerftoss' name, but also because there's a lackadaisical psychedelia to the songs here from producer John Jones (by day, the bassist for Dope Body) that just as easily could've soundtracked that epic-in-the-minds-of-a-couple-of-fuck-arounds in suburbia. "Maiden Powers" is laced with the confident boundary-pushing of Krautrock through and through: 'Calibur' sounds like Amon Duul II covering Radiohead's 'National Anthem'; 'Reaching,' like a few Popol Vuh songs playing at once, melting into one; 'Porsch,' the blooz-free funk of Faust; 'Binje,' a snippet of some lost, live, calm-before-the-storm Can jam. Good and studied but never too studious stuff right here.

The highlight of "Maiden Powers" is the oh-wow-Pitchfork-approved 'Bottomless' which drops you in the middle of a dark hippie improvisation, the rhythm section firing on all cylinders, noodling around some nature sounds chirping and squeaking in the background; it's like The Grateful Dead and Hawkwind jamming together in the middle of a Rainforest Cafe. Most of the tracks have a sort of surface-level crackle to them, as if termites are crawling all over the song, nibbling on the innards of these instrumentals, which makes me think of the beginning of "Blue Velvet" when the camera goes into the grass after that dude dies and reveals all of the bugs crawling around underground. I don't know man, there's something about this record which seems, from the name on down, to capture some ineffable element of suburban life, especially when you're stuck there but know you won't be stuck there forever. Bucolic but ill at ease.

There are a couple of other local records from this year that do a similar thing to "Maiden Powers": Ricky Eat Acid's trip-house LP "Three Love Songs" and Trunkweed's hotboxed surf riffs for someone who has never surfed, "Days Of Haze," in particular—records that inject just a little menace into genres like ambient and jangle pop that superficially scan as pleasant and polite and relaxing. Let's brand it Baltimore's New Chill and see if that takes off, all right? Part big dumb soundtrack to a bonfire and drum circle you attended when the high school football team won and part narcotic noise configured for nodding off stoned and alone. Damaged, hopeful music that's comfortable in its discomfort for the time being because it knows, or at least hopes really hard, that it won't always be the way it is right now.

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