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The last thing that I'd ever expect to hear on a Mudhoney song is a lone saxophone staggering through the psychedelic mist of hippy-dippy organs, twittering electronica, and slow-burn guitar rumble. Yet thar she blows in meandering amplitude on "Baby, Can You Dig the Light?" the opening extended salvo from the band's eighth full-length, Since We've Become Translucent. And thar she blows some more on the album's final cut, "Sonic Infusion," a similarly lengthy and droning opus that bookends matters with a strangely unlocated sense of time and place. Imagine Roxy Music chewed up loose and spit out hard by the Butthole Surfers.

For what it's worth, the 'Honeys have been covering Hawkwind's "Urban Guerrilla" during encores recently, demonstrating a new application for deep space nebulae. Rebuilt for paganistic, astral travel, the grand elders of grunge take plenty of surprising detours on their one-record deal with long-lost flame Sub Pop but manage to reenter Earth's gravitational pull in one solid piece. In addition to exploring uncharted dimensions via skronking free jazz and velvet-toned vibes, they dive into unexpected brass arrangements on both "Where the Flavor Is" and the amusingly punchy "Take it Like a Man" (lyrical chestnut: "Once you realize that you're not in charge/It makes your codpiece feel a little too large.")

The album otherwise relies on gunk rawk's three-chords-for-beer formula and owes its overall sonic diversity to the use of three producers in three studios. Recording ace/odd-man-out Jack Endino even drops by for a nostalgic trip down Superfuzz/Bigmuff lane on "Inside Job," a crunchy call to arms featuring the MC5's graying white panther, Wayne Kramer. Ironic self-loathing likewise enhances "In the Winner's Circle," a tune that finds hysterical frontman Mark Arm -- seemingly happy with whatever attention his band has received over the years -- screeching on the verge of a nosebleed: "Yeah, I'm a winner/'Cause I got nothing left to lose/I got nothing/And I feel alright." It's a fitting emotional state for a band that not only predated the hype of grunge but outlived its usefulness.

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John La Briola

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