Concert Preview: Talking about “Odd Times” with Luke Bemand of Lespecial
By Scott McLennan
Lespecial proves that not all “jam bands” are simply children of the Dead.
Lespecial’s new album Odd Times was written and conceived during the pandemic lockdown. Bassist Luke Bemand explained to me that the title was meant to reflect the angst of the times without necessarily sounding like a “quarantine record.”
Mission accomplished, because if this record is reminiscent of anything in particular, the mind drifts back to 2019, before the pandemic shut down of the concert industry with the wrap-up of Slayer’s “Final Campaign” tour, which featured Primus and Ministry joining the retiring kings of thrash metal.
And, like a Slayer and friends show, Odd Times delivers a broader indictment of current events — this is not just a critique of the peak Covid era.
Odd Times opens with “Lungs of the Planet,” a song propelled by Slayer-esque thrash metal dynamics. The second song, “They Live,” is chock full of industrial beats blended with snippets of future-shock movie dialogue à la Ministry. And “Del Mondo Strangewich” boils over with Primus-style prog-funk.
But, in most cases, Lespecial blurs the boundaries of the musical genres that this trio habitually explores, so no one song is apt to be just one thing.
“The band never wanted to be confined to one genre,” Bemand said. “People tend to be trained to confine what they like in music.”
But those demands for predictability haven’t stopped Bemand, guitarist Jonathan Grusauskas, and drummer Rory Dolan from bringing the full range of their tastes to Lespecial’s live shows and albums.
The band is currently on tour supporting the September release of Odd Times and ends its road show on December 9 at the Paradise in Boston. Doom Flamingo will open the show.
Odd Times is the troupe’s fourth full-length album since 2015 and its most assured to date, not only marking an accomplishment for the band itself but likewise highlighting the continuing evolution and experimentation spinning out of the jam scene.
It also reflects how not all “jam bands” are simply children of the Dead.
Lespecial has had a strong streak of heavy metal in its ostensibly psychedelic music. The band upped the metal quotient on Odd Times, especially by having David Sanchez of the thrash band Havok produce the album. Sanchez first worked with Lespecial on its 2020 album Ancient Homies, for which he mixed the layered sounds heard on the finished tracks.
“We felt like it was a natural progression to have him produce this album,” Bemand said, adding that he and Sanchez clicked over a mutual love of John Carpenter’s sci-fi film about aliens among us, They Live (the sardonic themes of which are woven into the Odd Times track of the same name).
Bemand said that “Lungs of the Planet” was the first song completed for the project and served as a blueprint for the rest of the album. The tune moves from a brutal thrash groove to a moodier amoebic swirl before settling back into a martial beat accompanied by wiry guitar squalls.
Even when the band pulls back from the darker, heavier themes, there’s still a sense of restlessness coursing through these tunes. “These songs came during a time of confusion for a lot of people,” Bemand commented.
For all the foreboding built into Odd Times, this has actually been a pretty good year for Lespecial. The band has been touring throughout the year, hitting many high-profile festivals as well as doing a handful of shows with vibraphonist Mike Dillon under the moniker Fack’n A.
Dillon has built a repertoire that is even more varied than that of Lespecial: his career has encompassed punk rock, experimental jazz, and a long musical partnership with bassist Les Claypool.
Bemand calls Dillon a workhorse, but also an inspiration. “Playing with him has been an education,” Bemand said. Obviously, Lespecial is the kind of band that welcomes those kinds of ear-opening lessons.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.