What with a solid three nominations in this year's Houston Press Music Awards — two for singer/guitarist Ricky Dee alone — it seems like a good time to take a good look at Ganesha's debut LP, Downer. Rock has always been the best way to describe the trio, but Downer rides the spectrum from their sludgier, more ‘90s alt-inspired work right to a more traditionally punk sound. It’s those punk movements in particular that are some of the most enjoyable moments on Downer. “STM,” for example, is a throwback to Iggy and the Stooges, or maybe the Clash at their least give-a-fuck. Iggy is probably the stronger comparison, though. Like Raw Power, the record is very much in the red.
Ganesha is a rare equilateral triangle of a band, which is surprising considering the acclaim that Dee tends to net. But then he’s a guitarist and a singer, and those bastards are always front and center. Noe Kimes, though, is seriously not messing around on the bass. A lot of what gives Ganesha its heft is Kimes and his high speed throbbing. It’s rarely flashy, but it always launches Dee’s flourishes like a well-timed parkour course launches acrobats.
Or take “That Day Long” and drummer Sammy Reyna. At the risk of losing all punk-rock writer cred, Reyna has the same gift Tre Cool brought to Green Day. Within a small, fast pocket he’s a grand innovator. At maximum velocity he can turn simple fills into something that sounds like a magic trick. That’s the best places for him on Downer, when he pulls off flash almost too fast to hear.
Not that the slower moments “Blood Moon Rising” and “Coyotes” don’t have their charm. These though are what I’d call the more representative sound of Ganesha, and largely they showcase Dee the best. “Coyotes” especially is more sermon than song, with Dee using both his wailing croon and classic-rock guitar style to preach something dark and dystopian. At times these songs nearly descend into jam-band territory, albeit in a good way, but Ganesha has enough focus to know when that sort of thing becomes overly showy and avoids the line.
If there’s a complaint to be had on Downer, it’s that it isn’t terribly innovative music. Whether it’s the Doors or Stone Temple Pilots or any number of other great acts, Ganesha is sort of a backwards-looking concern. Songs like “Three” sound more like tunes I might dig out of an old 120 Minutes compilation anthology. Ganesha is a band in orbit around several different sounds instead of on a journey to a new one.
Not that there’s anything wrong with rock traditionalism, if that’s your bag. The aforementioned “Three” will please any Butthole Surfer fan, and I’d say “Chillin on the Sun” reaches as far forward as Nico Vega instrumentally even as it ties itself firmly to The Doors vocally and lyrically. About the only truly daring track on Downer is “Brief Conclusions." That’s where Ganesha brings the blues, but with Texas thunder to give it weight. The mix edges into the newer dark-country acts like Jace Everett and Butch Walker. It’s not uncharted territory, obviously, but it’s a kind of musical evil that has been pushed out of the mainstream a lot lately.
Downer is a fantastically cohesive collection of high-energy rock. There’s honestly not a bad track on it. If you like one, you’ll probably like 'em all. I’d call it a somewhat safe release, treading on ideas that have already become rock and roll proofs, but it’s a loud and wonderful kind of safe.
Ganesha releases Downer Saturday night at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh, with special guests Mantra Love and Carmeci.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.