First impressions can be misleading, we should all know that by now. This fact becomes crucial for the music journalist as we are exposed to so many bands, albums and tracks in a day that our brain can’t help but fall back on broad stereotypes. Thus, when the name Tumbleweed Dealer first presented itself to me, coupled with the “420” in their Bandcamp URL, my eyebrows lifted more than slightly. However, the spirit of magnanimity was upon me on that day and I decided to give the band a chance to convince me that they were something more than the countless toke-wielding, stoner rock ensembles out there. And boy, was I proven wrong.
The basic elements which make up their latest release, TDIII – Tokes, Hatred & Caffeine (henceforth called TDIII) are the same elements of classic stoner rock. Veiled guitars, fuzzy drums and prominent bass all mix like purple smoke, creating a haze based in country, blues and other Americana sounds. However, TDIII blends these ideas with gestures from post rock and math rock, creating a moving, dynamic mass rather than iteration upon iteration of desert-centered riffs. Surprisingly, the album uses much smaller guitars, preferring the blend of the whole to the monolithic approach to riffing which usually marks stoner rock/metal creations.
“Days Gone High” is a fantastic example of that. The different guitar parts blend beautifully with each other, creating a melancholic, forlorn sound by utilizing more quiet leads. By the time the blues-y outro arrives, we’re set up for the setting sun, the open road and the melancholy of the lost West. The drums contribute to this vibe as well, subtle and dexterous as they are. These are the math rock elements, otherwise replete and dominant on the album. The fast ducking and weaving, the interaction between all the instruments as they bounce between the different segments, all of these techniques uplift the “heavier” elements which might otherwise have been a drag. Look for the insanely subtle groove on “Bongwater Creek” for example or the prominently brilliant bass of closer “Voodoo Haze”.
All of this simply makes TDIII into a fun album. It’s light without being frivolous, somber without being awkward and filled with presence without being repetitive. It’s a true surprise in a genre which is otherwise inhabited (and inhibited) by stock formulas and chewed up ideas. Instead, it presents us with sensations we’re familiar with via names like Clutch (“White’s Ferry” is almost a prototype of Tumbleweed Dealer) and builds on them, splicing them with the modern timbres present today with rock. Whether while driving or with a quiet drink to yourself, TDIII has a lot to offer, well past what one might expect from their names. Color me humbled.