Mark Sultan

$

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Mark Sultan (also known as BBQ and a frequent collaborator with fellow Spaceshits alumnus King Khan) has made a powerful name for himself with his rough-and-ready brand of blues-infused minimalist rock & roll, but he's exploring some new territory on his second album under his own name, $. Perhaps the title is meant to be high irony, because $ is less approachable and "commercial" (for lack of a better word) than much of what Sultan's offered us in the past; this album is a bit short on simple high-energy rave-ups, and instead makes room for longer, noisier pieces in which his crunchy guitar and stomping drums compete with electronic droning and extended atonal solos. There's plenty here in the style we've come to expect from Sultan, like the hard-charging "Don't Look Back," the punk-leaning "Go Berserk," and the upbeat (and even melodic) "Waiting for Me" and "Just to Hold You." But the opening cut, "Icicles," leaves no doubt this is a different kind of Mark Sultan album; dominated by fuzzy guitars, shifting rhythm patterns, and a wavering minor-key melody, the song wanders about for four minutes before Sultan begins to sing, and at 6:30, it sounds like an epic art rock construction compared to anything on The Sultanic Verses. The deeply echoed corridors and wacked-out guitar lines of the closer, "Nobody But You," suggest Sultan and his pals might have been listening to Muddy Waters' infamous psychedelic experiment Electric Mud before heading into the studio, and the results fare only a bit better for Sultan than they did for Waters. And the drifting clouds of free-form noise on "I Am the End" take the tune down a detour that leads both artist and audience to a dead end. Mark Sultan hasn't lost his gift for writing a good song and letting it come to life in the studio, but $ offers the first suggestions that he's adding self-indulgent thumb-twiddling to his musical repertoire, and while there isn't enough here to ruin the album, there's plenty to make listeners wonder just what he's up to with this stuff.

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