Oakland “stoner violence” trio Connoisseur’s entire debut LP is about the pleasures and politics of smoking weed. The band attempts to be dually comical and menacing, falling short in both capacities.
Whenever a band focuses all of its attention on one subject, it’s bound to get old no matter how engaging that subject might be. With that, the appeal of Connoisseur’s debut LP depends entirely on your personal tolerance for the band’s, um, chronic monomania. Then again, by its own admission, the Oakland “stoner violence” trio is trying to be provocative: “If you are straight edge,” says guitarist Daniel Hague, aka Daniel “Machinegun” Grenade, in a press release, “this record will hopefully make you question your life choices. If you smoke pot, this record will make you feel sexy and intelligent.”
If only that were true, and if only the band could muster half as much wit via their music as Hague does in that single quip. All indications show they could; clearly, this is a band with a sense of humor. In 2015, their side-splitting video for “Pot Hole” depicted frontman Carlos Saldana sparking up with a pair of door-to-door religious pamphleteers. And Saldana keeps tongue firmly in cheek in the band’s live show, where his hyperactivity and self-deprecation make for a strong, distinct presence that recalls D.R.I.’s Kurt Brecht in his prime. But without the benefit of being able to see Saldana’s facial expressions as he jumps around and windmills his arms, Connoisseur’s schtick loses a critical dimension. On Over the Edge, the band attempts to be dually comical and menacing. The album falls short in both capacities.
Things start out promisingly enough when Saldana shouts, “You didn’t want your kids to be like us/We don’t want our kids to be like you” on opening number “The Stoning.” By the next line, though, Saldana’s train of thought gets a bit convoluted: “So now weed is mainstream/And profits are so fucking high/Fancy shops and fancy rigs/We don’t want your money in our scene/Get out.” Okay—it’s understandable that Saldana and company would resent marijuana chic and the gentrification that comes with it. (And hats off to Saldana if he got someone thinking about this issue for the first time.) But would these guys prefer someone face criminal charges and prison time just to maintain their sense of outlaw cool?
Worse, when Saldana closes the song out with “You can take your weed/You can fuck yourself,” it reeks of the same punk elitism that undermines come-as-you-are outsider scenes from within. On “I’d Rather Be Smoking Weed,” Saldana calls for a sense of solidarity, singing “No more divisions/Tearing each other down,” but his arms are only open for fellow potheads. Unsurprisingly, the music is most charming when it’s clear that Saldana is just clowning the audience, like when he sings, “Hit this/Or I’ll kick your ass/This weed/It’s so magical/So green/Put it in yer butt/Wait, don’t/I’m just kidding.”
On “Weeding Out the Weak”—a kind of boxing contest between smokers—Saldana cleverly makes himself the target of his own joke by losing the contest. Indeed, there’s a lot to like about how this band seems to wink at you between lines, as if screaming “if you take us too seriously, the joke’s on you.” Much of the time, though, Saldana shrieks and grunts as if he’s deadly serious, which makes it easy to miss the joke. And all too often, Connoisseur’s wit is eclipsed by what sounds like a sincere desire to brag about how much weed they burn through.
In an age where Weedeater’s Dixie Dave pulls stunts like cough-medicine and cheese tastings, there really are few cards left to play from the drugs-are-cool deck. And if a group as sonically engaging as Cypress Hill can reduce itself to self-parody after just a couple of albums, Connoisseur need to play-up the things that set them apart. Namely: the way they break out of the paint-by-numbers stoner metal mold by mixing fast and slow tempos with ease. However brief and ratty Connoisseur’s songs get, it’s noteworthy that Hague, Saldana, and returning drummer Lyle Sprague are actually emulating musically ambitious groups like Earth Crisis and Spazz. Their mix of sludge, powerviolence, and d-beat hardcore is flexible and seamless enough to accommodate “Hey! Ho!” Ramones-style chants (“All Day, Every Day”) and even clean guitars (“Boulevard of Broken Bongs”). With some tweaking, they could marry the music and the humor together for a particularly potent strain of stoner metal.