Unfurling with a skirl of shred, Vernon Reid & Masque’s Other True Self launches into “Game Is Rigged.” Then the guitar chomps start, ferocious as death metal, but it’s possible to dance and bob your head. Next, the Hammond B3 and ax duel on a smoking booze-and-blooz riff, and it’s still the same track.
With no vocals to crap it up, Reid’s made an album that wanders far and wide, all of it linked by his very mean-sounding instrument. The threadbare meme that this is sophisticated hard rock, so you should like it because your noggin needs sonic broccoli, could be deployed. But better to leave that to the people who write about NeurIsis bands or New Age black-metal groups employing women singers to moan like the wind in the background.
If it’s puzzlement and brain-stretching you need, be satisfied with Reid’s hat, which looks good on him on the cover and in no way diminishes the album’s start-to-finish funk. It’s a fine trick because the Masque musos jam their grease into a prog amalgam of jazz and the occasional reggae beat, alternately soaring then chopping riffage. A Depeche Mode cover, “Enjoy the Silence,” airs chiming octaved guitar in a bluesy then joyous motif, spiced by an oddball whammy bar effect that makes the CD sound like it’s changing speed. And just when it seems like everything remotely possible has been wrung from the tune, the man on six-string delivers a forearm smash for good measure at the finish.