On their Bandcamp page, Montreal’s Gas Station Mentality bill themselves as a “grunge, alternative, blue collar” band. From a sonic perspective, this couldn’t be further from the truth. However, their visual aesthetic fits this description perfectly. Gas Station Mentality’s competent jazz-funk fusion might not be exceptional, but it’s undeniable that their presentation and technical skills are.
All three members look like 90s rockstars with a slightly glam exuberance. The artwork included with their self-titled debut is sloppy and cartoonish, like a child illustrating a punk zine. Its interesting to consider how much importance and effort the band must put into this disjointed visual aesthetic to draw attention to it in a place that is typically only used to describe a band’s sound.
I only have a cursory interest in jazz and funk via rap music, however there’s something particularly abrasive about the combination of these two genres with rich histories of improvisation, unbridled experimentation, and lengthy songs.
Gas Station Mentality’s songs are actually comparatively short, but their penchant for experimentation makes the songs sound scattered and as a result, they feel longer. Their perfectly-executed, spastic rhythms also rob these songs of the comforting grooves that jazz and funk’s timeless predecessors expertly used to temper the genre’s wilder elements.
There isn’t much to my ear that separates one track on this record from another, and while that’s certainly not something a band should strive for, it works to Gas Station Mentality’s advantage in a surprising way. Rather than each song noodle endlessly in their own individual way, these songs work together and create a consistent atmosphere which, for the most part, makes the whole record sound like a cohesive piece of music. Little more than their technical skill stands out over its nine tracks, but the listener is left with an overall pleasant impression of the time spent listening to it.
Like most jazz, this is mood music. For example, before I started writing this piece, I found myself frequently opening my word processor and working on a poem while listening to this record. It was entertaining and emotional enough to help maintain a creative mindset, but not distracting or exceptional enough to demand my attention. As the spastic song structures became ingrained in my mind, I even occasionally found myself bobbing my head to the music. This is due mostly to the exceptional drum and bass parts, which more often than not create a solid foundation for the less fluid and more rhythmically discordant guitar playing.
The album’s one standout track is “Empty.” It adopts the dark moodiness of the band’s alt-rock influences, and its repetitive guitar riffs are a relief from the chaotic guitar playing found on the rest of the record. This falls apart around the three minute mark, before coming back together again, making the song a frustrating but rewarding listen.
Jazz and funk aficionados will likely love this record, and fans of math-rock might also appreciate the complicated time structures and occasional modern, slightly rock sounds. However if straightforward song structures and variety of style or ambiance among an album’s songs are important to you, Gas Station Mentality will likely just confuse and disappoint.
Written by Brian Charles Clarke
*edited by Kate Erickson