On their second full length release, Supplemental Pills serve up some interesting music that’s at times minimalist, and at times noisy, but absolutely unafraid to hop between styles. Sometimes the material doesn’t even care for much of a tune, but it works. It’s also strangely hypnotic.
‘No Easy Way Out’ introduces the album in a very sedate manner as ‘Judgement Time’ weaves a reverbed guitar in and out of a hefty keyboard drone. For the better part of three minutes, any actual tune is supplied by a vocal that adds an almost dark folk like tone to an indie melody. At the track’s end, a couple of overdriven guitar chords crash through as if mimicking the mood of a funeral bell, suggesting that this will be a very atmospheric work. Things then take an unexpected turn when ‘Rest My Soul’ opens with a sparse blues arrangement and a distant voice is joined by loose slide guitar, as if the Mississippi Delta has intruded into the Supplementals’ world of heady drone/space rock, but they soon move into familiar territory when a wall of electric guitar noise rises, and gradually throws out a slow riff that falls somewhere between the heavier end of Hawkwind and the whacked out elements of early Monster Magnet. The repetitious droning sound actually sets up something of a groove, over which the band’s more melody conscious elements are allowed to work their magic. Of particular note here is the way that a heavy bass drops ascending notes against a buzzing guitar, eventually allowing for a distorted lead break to cut through, sounding like a badly played violin. Dour lead vocals coupled with a shouty refrain lend a dense and hard-going workout an extra intensity, but if you’re able to get past that, there’s plenty within the droning, repetitious music that’ll appeal to the hardened space rock obsessive.
Opting for more (necessary) melody, ‘Babylon’ shares a brilliant combo of distorted guitar riffs and piercing leads, before crashing into a heavier workout where busy toms underscore something that sounds like early Hawkwind trying to put their mark on a noisier Velvet Underground tune. In their own ragged way, the vocals still manage to convey a mix of strangely bluesy and detached noise, and it’s all very committed. On this track, the magic really happens once the vocals fall away to reveal some strong musicianship, and the deeply toned lead guitar break – which, again, adds an unexpectedly bluesy edge to the drone rock – is definitely one of this record’s musical highlights. Elsewhere brief spotlight onto some retro keys unveils a strange, Eno inspired, simple bell-like melody beneath a wall of wavering guitars, whilst a heavily treated vocal drops in various noises. With their being something of interest throughout, this is definitely one of this album’s best cuts, and aside from a drum part that sounds like Nick Mason doing some sort of warm up exercise, this could pass as one of The Flaming Lips’ most obtuse experiments. It never really goes anywhere, yet at the same time, its constant looping of fairly simple ideas creates something worth hearing.
It’s when stretching out that Supplemental Pills really come into their own, though, and on this album’s two extended pieces, listeners will certainly be able to further lose themselves within the band’s self-made world of strangeness. ‘Truth’ blends bluesy guitar parts into a mid tempo workout, where bits of ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ era Floyd lurk beneath the guts of earlier Monster Magnet, but unlike most of ‘No Easy Way Out’, there’s far more of a concession to accessible hooks. “I want truth”, cries Ezra Meredith’s lead vocal at regular intervals, suggesting a pointed anger, whilst his brother Joel really latches onto this opportunity to play some fiery blues leads until, eventually, the marriage of both musicians’ guitars swirls into a brilliant prog rock groove. Having set the mood, the tempo increases – and then increases again – allowing for some really angry proto-metal lead work, as if bits of an old Blue Cheer jam have intruded. It’s sort of out of step with the bulk of this album, but there’s a real pleasure in hearing Supplemental Pills cutting loose until reaching an unexpectedly loose musical climax. The title track, meanwhile, isn’t shy in sharing a world of back-masked guitar sounds against a pulsing synth noise, creating the base for an unashamed deep psych jam that could easily be Spacemen 3 or Spiritualized at their most obtuse. The core drone melody takes a few seconds to set itself in place; then in the ultimate drone rock wig out, it barely changes mood or tempo for almost ten minutes. It’s down to the vocal to maintain the interest, and armed with another hook that hammers home the title throughout, Ezra shows he’s more than up to the task in hand, whilst Joel’s mastery of effects pedals goes into overdrive as he drops vibratoed notes between the vocal melodies. He’s never tempted to steer the tune into a landscape of huge solos, even though the set up is perfect for a Floydian or Hillage inspired lead, which leaves the original pulsing melody with a strong presence in a way that ensures Supplemental Pills won’t be pigeonholed by the lazy as a “prog band”. ‘No Easy Way Out’ isn’t the most consistent of albums, but this track goes a long way towards making it feel like a great listen.
Swirling, angry, and loaded with deep grooves, there’s some impressive and very alternative music here, at least in a charmingly retro sense. The band’s mastery of a heady drone is more than clear; their willingness to add pulsing sounds to a more traditional stoner vibe keeps things interesting in a callback to the likes of Spacemen 3, and on the album’s longer jams, their love of a great atmosphere shines through. It’s a pity about some of those vocals, but you can’t have everything – and, in most respects, the voices often feel secondary to the music, so you can sometimes treat them like extra instrumentation if you bend your ears far enough into Supplimental Pills’ brilliantly layered sound. For lovers of deep psych, there’ll certainly be more than enough here to entertain. Hit and miss it may be, but when it all hits, ‘No Easy Way Out’ will certainly peak interest enough to seem like a great arrival within a genuinely alternative scene.