Barrence Whitfield & The Savages – Under The Savage Sky
If the late 2000s and the 2010s have proved anything, it’s that good old-fashioned garage rock seems resistant to the vagaries of time. The late 1960s and the early 1970s – whether it’s the retro-funk/soul of an act like the Honeybears or the raw, amphetamine proto-punk revival of Ty Segall – have proved to be a continually fertile source for people who are nostalgic for a time they never lived through. Barrence Whitfield and the Savages fall under the former, fusing old-school R&B, Stones-esque garage music, early funk, and Motown soul into a compressed nugget of Nuggets. This is pure rock ‘n’ roll, free of toxic adolescent angst, radio-chasing pop blandness, and cutting-edge trend chasing.
There may be some out there who remember Whitfield from his first decade, running from 1984 to 1995, where he traded in pretty much the same stuff he’s got on display here. His hiatus ended in 2011; since then he’s put out three albums just like Under The Savage Sky, cloaked in nostalgia and dripping with raw, crunchy attitude. The only misstep is “Angry Hands”, which sounds too close to Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” to be entirely comfortable. Otherwise this is a solid collection of retro-rock that hits all the right notes. While it doesn’t break new ground, it also doesn’t really have to. Certain sounds, while they may not be chart-topping, are timeless; the sound that Whitfield has staked his name on is one such.
White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again
“My little brother just discovered rock ‘n’ roll / There’s a noise in his head and it’s out of control / He no longer listens to A-sides / He made me a tape of bootlegs and B-sides / And every song, every single song on that tape sounds the same / Why don’t our parents worry about us? / Why don’t our parents worry about us?”
Sometimes people will say of certain bands “every song sounds the same” and you’ll have to leap to said band’s defense, pointing out the subtle intricacies of the band’s sound to show that they are, in fact, diverse.
White Reaper is not that band.
White Reaper Does It Again is 33 minutes of mile-a-minute garage punk, like Bass Drum Of Death on, uh, more amphetamines and peppered with diabetes-inducing keyboard lines to separate it from the Segall-inspired pack. Every song is pretty much exactly like “Make Me Wanna Die”, the hard-charging, drum-driven opener that starts the pyrotechnics immediately. Each one has a little hook that keeps it fresh, although only “Last 4th Of July” and “Wolf Trap Hotel” last beyond the next sugar crash. There are times when the tube-produced reverb threatens to drown the band out, but that’s par for the course for garage rock these days and White Reaper manages it admirably. The album is nothing particularly special, but it does what it does with style and strength, and sometimes that’s all you need.
The Sonics – This Is The Sonics
The last time Tacoma, WA band The Sonics were recording music, the Beatles were just discovering sitars and LSD. This is a band old enough to have its members shipped off to Vietnam, which saxophonist Rob Lind actually did. The others found jobs or went to college; the actual band was dead by 1968, although the in-name-only touring band would continue until 1980. They became retroactively famous for tracks like “Maintaining My Cool” (which was featured on one of the Nuggets comps) and “The Witch”; their name has been bandied about every time screeching garage rock is making a new name for itself – 1977, 2001, the San Francisco psych-garage scene.
With such continued interest, and a revival in the original band playing live, a new album was perhaps inevitable. Reunion albums are always a chancy thing – for every No Cities To Love there are a thousand Indie Cindys. This Is The Sonics, though, is the real deal – this is an album that sounds as though no time at all has passed in the intervening forty years. Despite the advanced age of the players – they’re all over 70 now – there is no compromise to be found here. The Sonics are playing garage rock the only way they know how – fast, lewd, distorted, and shot through with dirty blues and early, primal rock and roll. The material threatens to feel dated but never does, and the deciding factor is absolutely the volcanic force with which the band plays, a force that should send half the San Fran scene back to their scuzzy garages to regroup.
Liam Hayes – Slurrup
Psychedelic rock is big business nowadays. What with Tame Impala and Foxygen riding their obvious influences to indie success, and the rather more scorching garage rock movement wrecking small venues across the continent, it’s now an established path to the, er, “top”. Liam Hayes has been putting out this sort of music since Nirvana was a white-hot, cutting-edge band; Slurrup is his fifth studio album since 1998 and it trades in the sort of stuff that all the kids seem to like – the Who, the Kinks, Psychedelic London. The problem here, though, is that it’s all just a bit too pat. He writes decent psych-rock nuggets in a manner that would have put him in the top ten in a battle of the bands in 1966. So what? Guided By Voices does the early Who better. Ty Segall makes much more engaging garage numbers. This is psychedelic rock by numbers, filling in all the requisite pieces without really taking it anywhere. Oh, there’s the organ, there’s the plunking piano, here’s the soaring, pastoral vibe lifted straight from The Village Green Preservation Society. Look, there’s the weird sound collage made out of people laughing, because no one’s ever heard fucking pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd before! Slurrup is okay, and that’s it’s biggest stumbling block. It’s all been done before, better, and recently to boot.