Douglas Martin knows Jim Jones. The REAL Jim Jones.
There’s this thing that a lot of obsessive music fans often do when thinking about bands and songs: grapple with the concept of “authenticity”. When evaluating an artist’s work, we question whether it’s “genuine” or “honest,” or adding anything to the musical landscape. Some feel that new music should add something “new” constantly, something that makes them stand out from the loads of music that’s already been released. For others, there’s an X-factor, an intangible that makes a band’s music feel “real” without necessarily reinventing the wheel. The latter is something The People’s Temple has in spades. As the saying goes, they’re not doing anything new, but they’re doing everything right.
I might as well get this out of the way: if you’re a fan of any iteration of 60’s rock that doesn’t recall The Beatles or The Zombies, then chances are Sons of Stone has something for you on it. Not only does the Michigan band’s sound recall a plethora of bands who have been cited in every review of Sons of Stone so far (here’s a shortlist: The Who, The Seeds, Love, Rolling Stones, whatever your music your grandfather was spinning around the time your father was born), but the album itself sounds like it was recorded in between sessions for A Web of Sound, like the engineer snuck the band in to record the album on someone else’s dime.
Though it’s likely going to be described as such, the album doesn’t sound “lo-fi” as much as it sounds like a vintage artifact. Of course anything not recorded on Pro-Tools in 2011 is guaranteed to be lumped in with the DIY crowd, but one of the remarkable things about Sons of Stone is how faithfully it adheres to the recording methods of the psych-rock bands of yesteryear. It’s hard to imagine how songs like “Axe Man” and “Starstreamer”– the former with its impassioned, double-tracked vocals and the latter peppered with screamer firecrackers– would sound without the analog haze they’re cast into. It’s safe to say the songs would hold up on their own, but there’s something about the way they are recorded that lends itself to the overall feel of the record. Part of the album’s appeal– from the recording to the songs themselves– is that it sounds like exactly like a lost record by an obscure band unearthed by Mississippi Records or Light in the Attic. Allusions are made to 1964 Chevys, riffs and licks are tossed off in a way that would make any Baby Boomer beam with pride, and the band’s name itself is a reference to the ultimate late-60’s / early-70’s fixation: the cult (specifically the pre-Jonestown Massacre “religious sect” Peoples Temple).
If there was ever the notion of a “rock playbook“ to pinch cues from, The People‘s Temple have studied it like true students of the game. “Pretender” and “Miles Away” fly by with a scuffed sense of urgency, recalling whatever they called punk before punk was even a genre. “Keeper (of Souls)” and “Visions of the Sun” manages to one-up White Fence in the sepia-toned West Coast garage department. An early highlight of the album is “Led as One (Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum),” a swaggering three minutes and change that re-imagines the band as the 60’s rock stars they would be in their right era. The pair of songs that close the album are even better, with “Never Really (Saw Me Comin‘ ‘Round)” a climactic, tense build up to the vintage cop-drama creep of closer “The Surf”. There’s a bounty of well-crafted songs on Sons of Stone, one that harken back to a time before musicians used nostalgia as a crutch — simply because there wasn’t all that much pop to be nostalgic for.
So the question is this: does the picture-perfect archaic tint of Sons of Stone make The People’s Temple more or less authentic as a band? Is the fact that they’re not reinventing the wheel cancel out the fact that this particular wheel is incredibly well-crafted? Should we slam a heavy door on our usage of the word “throwback,” which should have died around the time rappers stopped rocking Mitchell and Ness jerseys? Ultimately, in most cases, the notion of authenticity is far too ambiguous to have much real value when it comes to our enjoyment of music, and Sons of Stone should be taken at face value as a really fucking good rock record. And the answer to the latter question is an emphatic “yes”.