In which the six-headed Hydra of creativity, born out of that hotbed of musical derring-do Berklee College of Music some 10 years ago, rises above adversity, and by a collision of the Fates and Muses produces a mesmerising melting pot of ideas in the classic 21st Century style. To wit, their fifth and best studio album to date, entitled You Know What They Mean.
The enforced absence of drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth, after an accident while leaving the stage in his hometown of San Francisco left him with a badly broken ankle, followed later in 2018 by the whole band, Gavin now back on board, luckily escaping injury after their tour van did a backflip on an icy road, seems to have concentrated creative energies, and then some.
After the short “welcome to the show” intro of Lansing, Bone Rage sets the scene for an album based on HUGE riffs and BOLD tunes, an approach that makes the band more accessible than in past intricate adventures, but still retaining a sense of danger and adventure that any fan of this unique troupe will recognise. Bone Rage, from its title and down through its riffage channels Pixies, but as played out by the Mael brothers. A cracking start to the record, a tune that promises much. It is soon apparent that all expectations are to be exceeded.
The increased collective toughness, a result of the twists of fate mentioned above, saw You Know What They Mean conceived as a team effort, a first for the band. This end result is a whole that hangs together better than anything they have crafted previously.
The charging Cradle of Rocks has a BIG indie rock/pop sound and makes you wonder how big this band might have become had they been born 30 years earlier. lovemenot has a lumbering GARGANTUAN lurching riff that crushes all before it, a sort of Sonic Youth with hobnailed boots on, but it’s still a pop song to these avant-ears at any rate. In acknowledgement of the perceived greater commercial potential of the album Gavin says, “If you like, this is our Speaking In Tongues after our Remain In Light”.
The band take a short breather on the gentle and considered Bird Song, where Courtney Swain is relieved not to be giving full vent to her fulsome pipes, I’m sure. Following this is the groovy (no, really!) Catch Light, a fat slice of limb-loosening funky moves, over which Courtney gives her most slinky tones. If you don’t dance to this, even if only in your head, then you need to buy a rug and learn how to cut it.
The intro to Golden Hour gives free rein to Courtney’s marvellous voice, a thing that will move your emotions, as well as the Rockies. It’s been said before, and probably by me in reviews of previous albums, but Ms Swain’s ENORMOUS range is what makes this band, already damned impressive, something to behold, and truly unique. That is a beacon to fix on to as one is tossed on a sea of increasingly generic fare in this overcrowded pond. This band, and in particular You Know What They Mean is one of the diamonds in the dirt, no question.
A headline tour in the UK would be the icing on the cake. I’m grovelling here, and I make no apologies!
01. Lansing (1:22)
02. Bone Rage (4:13)
03. Give Us The Gold (3:51)
04. Hold Me In (4:50)
05. Egg Replacer (3:10)
06. Cradle Of Rocks (4:00)
07. Lovell (1:27)
08. lovemenot (5:10)
09. Bird Song (2:56)
10. Catch Light (4:39)
11. Garbage Shark (5:38)
12. Golden Hour (5:51)
13. It Happens (5:05)
Total Time – 52:22
Courtney Swain – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Ben Levin – Guitar, Vocals
Jessica Kion – Bass, Vocals
Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth – Drums
Chris Baum – Violin, Vocals
Vince Welch – Synths, Rhythm Guitar, Sound Design, Production
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 11th October 2019