Trafficking in classic rock is dangerous these days. It’s not the sex or drugs that’ll get ya, but the ghosts of rock gods past. Anybody attempting a seventies-esque rock album now has quite a bar to reach, and considerably fewer resources to reach it with than back in the day. Good luck earning the sort of industry clout that allows for excesses like a cocaine and milk diet, or a sexual experience involving a mud shark, or the sort of unlimited budget that lets you follow your muse indefinitely, especially if it involves recording the sounds of “clean” air and “dirty” air, or South American drum circles, or…you get the idea. I imagine that God Tiny knows all of this too, but here they are with a throwback rock album, The Space Inside Your Head. And like any band that tries to reckon with giants, there are some victories and the occasional crushed limb.
God Tiny is a talented group of guys with a shitload of ideas. This is apparent in album opener, “Betty.” So are the band’s above average chops, and its clear devotion to rock music from 1968-76(ish). “Betty” has electric pianos and lived-in harmonies plucked clean from Music from Big Pink; there’s the shambling country rock feel of The Byrds circa Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and even a touch of the Holy Modal Rounders’s goofiness. But the song is more a pileup of touchstones than a fully realized tune, and kicking off the album with it shows a band still learning its strengths.
Eclecticism and irreverence can be effective tools for updating the gold sounds of platinum rockers (Blitzen Trapper’s early albums, for instance), but it doesn’t work when the songs aren’t there. Thankfully, the second tune on The Space Inside Your Head, “Born to Die,” is stronger than its leadoff track. It’s also more indicative of the LP’s sunny, bluesy psychedelia, and its overarching theme of mortality. The “olds” would call “Born to Die” boogie rock, and boogie it does into a solid chorus, and an outro, “Death Have No Mercy,” that is inexplicably separated into its own track. This coda is one of the most interesting moments on the album, and it kind of sounds like Spacemen 3 covering Pink Floyd’s “On the Run.” Shoegaze-y space rock suits God Tiny’s three-guitar attack. It spreads out those six strings so the keyboards and rhythm section can breath. On an album where guitar workouts are the norm, this is one of the few times where all those axes add up to something new.
Death is the elemental preoccupation that binds The Space Inside Your Head’s thirteen tracks. Lyrically the album teems with skunked dorm musings about our place in the universe. Sometimes this vague mysticism suits the song like on “Fearless” (“Oh mother of light and earth, kiss me on the forehead, show me brightness. Play with me out in the dirt/show me it’s okay that we are dying.”) Other times it’s a little much (“Friends, enemies, we may disagree, but we’re all animals,” from “Lucid Blues,” was no less wince-inducing on my seventh listen than my first).
“Lucid Blues” and the sludge-fuzz rocker “Wet Paint,” are two of The Space Inside Your Head’s weakest tracks. Their hooks fail to dig in, and the lyrics grow repetitive with their lack of specificity. These are two songs that might’ve been rescued by inspired production, but the mix lacks the warmth, and dynamic range of the genre’s old school triumphs.
Luckily, The Space Inside Your Head’s high point follows this early sag. The ebullient “Sadhu” has a lightness of touch that the rest of the album lacks. It’s also the song best suited to lead singer Jeremy Kolker’s boyish vocals. Since his instrument lacks organic grit it sometimes fails to distinguish itself during the bluesier numbers, but here the lightness of the soul-inspired arrangement lets him glide along with confidence. This allows for the chorus to really deliver as well, opening up into a thrilling swirl that’s reminiscent of White Denim.
“Sadhu,” is followed by another standout, “Revolution Run.” The song’s the closest the band gets to Nuggets-esque garage rock bliss. The production here’s inspired as well, with judicious dollops of fuzz, and echo providing unexpected pleasures.
The album’s closing run is bogged down briefly by lowlight, “Weaves the Flow,” (essentially a rewrite of The Band’s “The Weight,”), but it finishes strong and sure. The folky “Next to You” is a lovely setup for closer, “Cosmos.” This final tune reiterates the album’s themes of mortality, and the possibility to be found in accepting our shared cosmic insignificance, but this time there’s a fully realized set of lyrics to go along with all those guitars. “I remember when I was a little boy,” sings Kolker over a brawny shuffle, “consciousness was wondrous, thunder in the void.”
That the album ends with a guitar solo is unsurprising, but this one’s informed by the improved lyrics and a slower tempo, and it’s all the better for it. It might not rise to the impossible heights of a Tom Verlaine or a Tommy Iommi—those non-tiny gods of a bygone era—but considering the resources involved it’s still pretty sweet.
Stream “Betty” below: