Had Utah's SUBROSA come across my radar during my shaggy-haired and red-eyed teenage years when the only things that mattered were my guitar, my bong and girls who were impressed with my ability to handle either object, I'm sure my bedroom walls would have been heavily adorned with images of these sirens of psychedelic stoner rock. Alas, those days of hormone-fueled chauvinism (AKA: the "Beavis and Butthead" era) have long since past and adulthood has at least changed my taste in home décor. Feeble attempts at tasteless humor aside, SUBROSA is one pretty damned intriguing collective of musicians.Built around the KYUSS-like riffage of guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, SUBROSA fills that swirling mass of space between THC-enhanced ethereal doom, indie rock and the growing number of bands that employ classical string instruments in very non-classical ways (e.g. LOOM, GRAYCEON, et al). The latter element comes from an underlying layer of electrical violin, which serves as an effects-laden, ambient distraction from the melancholic distortion at times, and a source of eclectic and ghost-like melody during the disc's more chilling moments. While it might be easy to pinpoint some repetitiveness in violinist Sarah Pendleton's playing from song to song (though an argument could be made that she provides a thread that somehow thematically ties each tune together), her contribution to "Strega" is the X-factor that keeps the album from being lumped in with a slew of other stony soundscapes. Well, that and Vernon's hypnotizing vocals. Like a detached PJ Harvey with a bit of attitude via L7's Donita Sparks — especially on "Black Joan" — hers is a voice that could easily draw in unsuspecting souls. This allure is amplified on the a cappella "Go Down Moses". Layered with rich harmonies, this track is worlds apart from the bottom-heavy and aggressive "Christine" or the sullen crush of "Sugar Creek", which had me frantically searching for my SPIRITU disc.
"Strega" is an album with plenty of high points, yet the lows are obvious enough to balance those out. As unique as SUBROSA strives to be within their doomy confines, they can tend to go to the well once or twice too often, creating moments that blur together with little fanfare. Repeated listens act as a double-edged sword that allow the good blossom into great, but also shed more light on the less consistent passages. However, for an enjoyable 41 minute span of your (ahem) "altitude adjustment rituals," "Strega" fits the bill nicely.