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Best Albums of 2011 Series: “El Camino,” The Black Keys

16th December

By the time “Gold on the Ceiling” blasts you with a bruising nod to glam so worthy of Suzie Quatro or Aladdin Sane-era Bowie you can just see Dan Auerbach plant his tongue in his cheek as he plays, you’ve survived the convulsing adrenaline of “Lonely Boy” and the sonically massive “Dead and Gone.” It is clear by then that this is not the Black Keys from that copy of Thickfreakness you wore out back in college. Hell, it isn’t even the Keys you adjusted to on 2008’s Attack & Release, the duo’s first foray with ubiquitous producer Danger Mouse after a rudderless album in 2006’s Magic Potion.

With the exception of stunners like “You’re the One,Potion felt like the work of a band that had turned to the well of their revival rock often enough to come up dry the fourth time around. And though Attack’s more ambitious vision elicited huffs from pseudo-hipster snots who pledged their allegiance to the guys that covered The Sonics’ “Have Love Will Travel” eight years ago, it also was the work of a band that had discovered a side of their muse no one saw coming.

Tracks like “I Got Mine” rocked with all the blistering abandon longtime fans expected before a psychedelic interlude turned the song into a vague echo of something from one of Rhino’s mid-60s Nuggets box sets. “Psychotic Girl” laid some wicked banjo over a beat that had more in common with Portishead than pot heads, while “So He Won’t Break” joined the Ventures with the clanging glory of Tom Waits’s Frank’s Wild Years as Auerbach delivered the most stirring vocal performance of his life. The dreamy, wistful ballad “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be” remains possibly the finest moment the band has put to tape and sounded like exactly nothing from prior entries in the Keys’ catalog.

El Camino, like its gloriously funkadelic predecessor Brothers, continues the Keys’ Danger Mouse experiment, but the record that emerged this time around puts its finger on an irony no band is better suited to exploit. This is a daring record not because it departs from the rock ‘ roll conventions these guys plumbed on prior albums—garage rock, blues, classic rock, psychedelia—but because it embraces those conventions more fully than ever before and without the slightest trace of shame or reservation.

“Lonely Boy’s” syrupy eruption of chintz and frat-house boogie makes it clear from the start that this will be the record the Keys have wanted to record since the day they stumbled on their parents’ LP collection but never quite found the daring to make. While the layered, half-acoustic half-garage-jam freak-out “Little Black Submarines” flaunts the duo’s affection for those Zeppelin and Tom Petty records they hummed in their sleep as kids, Pitchfork’s assertion that the song lifts “wholesale” the riff from “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is far-fetched (See RHCP’s “Dani California” for a much more obvious example of wholesale burglary). “Dead and Gone’s” guitar solo sports all the spit and gritted teeth Auerbach bared on records like Rubber Factory, but here it’s all cloaked in the more considered orchestrations Danger Mouse brings to the mix.

Yes, it’s a more polished and poppy sound, but how boring to let those misgivings get in the way of the truckload of fun this album dumps on your doorstep. That’s the line these songs draw in the mud: Either you’re willing to take yourself a little less seriously and bring a bottle of Quervo to the 11-track party these guys throw on El Camino, or you’re one of the too-cool pseudo-hipsters who can’t let go. The Keys make no apologies here to those who showed up for their shows eight years ago just because it was the hippest place to be seen at the time.

And if you thought six albums of songs full of bitter ruminations on love and loss might have been enough to smudge the hurt out of Auerbach’s heart, do not fear. Here he comes again with lines like “Your momma kept you but your daddy left you / and I should have done you the same,” or “She’s the worst thing / I’ve been addicted to / still I run right back / run right back to her.” Oh, Dan . . .

It takes an oddly cold fish to resist this record. From the aforementioned tracks to the snarling drums with which Patrick Carney buttresses Auerbach’s nasty slide guitar on “Run Right Back” through the meaty, muscular riff on “Mind Eraser,” El Camino boasts the spirit and the substance that great rock ‘n roll is made of.

Gianmarc Manzione
gmanzione@culturespill.com

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Best Albums of 2010 Series: “Warm Slime,” Thee Oh Sees

16th December

 

theeohsees.jpg

If Thee Oh Sees were a dorm room, it would be half-a-foot deep in paper plates stained with pizza grease and have a kitchen sink so bloated with the foul and crusted silverware of meals long past that it belches at you when you pass by. It also would likely reek of some unmentionable mixture of urine, unclean dogs and neglected laundry. And we may need to toss in a few condom wrappers thrown to the floor, walls yellowing with stains of bong smoke, and perhaps a stash of happy mushrooms hidden somewhere under the bunk.

Welcome, my friends, to the music of Thee Oh Sees.

This rioting pack of garage-psych brats hails from San Francisco, and they’re hell-bent on simultaneously resurrecting and razing the cultural stomping ground once lorded over by acts like The Sonics, The Electric Prunes, The Count Five and The Trashmen. The ‘60s script these kids read from is one they’ve studied hard and know by rote, even down to their propensity for cutting a new record every eight minutes or so (six LPs in the past three years alone, and a record in Warm Slime which they claim to have recorded in a single day).

The Kinks released three new albums in 1965 alone, and The Rolling Stones, not to be out done, released four new albums of their own that year as young bands scrambled to stuff the insatiable maws of slave-drivers back at the ranch of one big label or another. Thee Oh Sees don’t even have a distributor, no less a big-label slave-driver, but their Wikipedia discography reveals an extended rap sheet of LPs, EPs, 7-inch releases and the revolving door of labels they’ve thrown them to.

To top it all off, John Dwyer, the epicenter of this calamity who seems only to have gathered a band around him as an afterthought, has paraded through seven prior bands before arriving at the one he’s with. And even then he can’t seem to settle on a name.

“From the OCS to the OhSees to Thee Oh Sees, John Dwyer . . . has molted band names like some rare endangered bird determined to shake off pursuers,” Jayson Greene of Pitchfork remarks.

No wonder their video for “Meat Step Lively” from 2009’s Help seems to serve the sole purpose of inducing an epileptic seizure.

But in Warm Slime Thee Oh Sees have the record The Black Keys and White Stripes thought they’d been making all these years but were never unhinged enough to deliver. The record is an unrelenting siege of distortion, reverb and rage filtered through the sieve of the long-gone garage gods they worship in song. “I Was Denied” is a glorious romp that laces Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” with a few tabs of acid and sends it on its exceedingly merry way. The turbulent “Castiatic Tackle” amps up The Cramps’ “Goo Goo Muck” to a decipel even those godfathers of psychobilly didn’t know they had in them. And the title track clocks in at nearly 14 minutes of blistering abandon that will leave you panting for more.

These guys’ fingers may be dirty with the dust of your grandma’s vinyl collection, but with records like Help and Dog Poison in 2009 and now Warm Slime this past May, they leave absolutely no doubt whatsoever that this most certainly is not your grandma’s rock ‘n roll.

Gianmarc Manzione
gmanzione@culturespill.com

The Heavy: “Making Noise While You Make Love”

18th May

The Heavy

Major Culturespill props are due to StellaSplice for tipping all of us off on a band they call “incredibly digable.” We completely agree. The Heavy, a funky, put-on-your-assless-purple-leather-Prince-pants-and-get-down outfit out of the UK, is easily making some of the most boogie-worthy music this side of the moon. But you probably haven’t heard any of it yet, and that’s about to end right now. Cluttering the kitchen sink of Parliament-worthy funk with a bulging load of every genre under the sun–Motown, hip-hop, rock, pop, soul, industrial, folk and–who knows–maybe Polka and Carnival music are on the horizon too–their myspace page identifies them as everything from “Black metal” to “Easy Listening” to “Italian Pop.” That pretty much leaves it all out on the table. And to top things off, you can watch them blast some Remington 1100’s into a row of unassuming water bottles here. Yippie.

The world hasn’t heard music with this much groove since RHCP lured George Clinton into a studio to lay down some tracks with them on their underappreciated Freaky Styley album 23 years ago–you know, back before the Peppers became “arteests.” As the funktastic “That Kind of Man” explodes with a relentlessly massive sound that brings to mind some dude straight out of the late 1970s with a mile-high afro and an early boombox half his size clutched to one ear as he struts right by you up the block, it becomes clear that The Heavy aren’t taking shit from anybody. That’s probably why they include “big bad wolves just doing what they do” among their band members on MySpace. There really isn’t a more accurate description of their sound than that. These boys (and one girl–clutching an axe with a murderous stare on their myspace page, no less) are here for the long haul.


The Heavy: “That Kind of Man”

The Heavy’s sound is Tom Waits backed by The Stooges, Muddy Waters back from the Dead to make an album with Danger Mouse (because Danger Mouse SO needs another project on his hands.) These guys are bringing taste back in a big damned hurry, and judging from the friends they keep on MySpace, it’s hard to conceive of a more fitting band to do it–The Sonics, Howlin’ Wolf, Slim Harpo, Tom Waits, and even Waits’s label Anti. These people know a good groove when they hear one, and they’re threatening to bring plenty more of their own for good measure. Check ‘em out.