KARMA TO BURN: Karma to Burn

Long before they became road warriors for centre-line rifferola shorn of all but rock’s barest necessities – guitar, drum, bass, no words, no solos – Karma to Burn were a different beast for one record only: their first one, cut loose in 1997 by Roadrunner Records, and a lost classic by anyone’s measure.

It’s the anomaly in the Karma catalogue, no question. But is it the best thing they ever did?

Karma to Burn debut album cover

The Karma to Burn debut: a masterpiece. Except for the cheap-tack artwork

Emerging into the late 90s post-desert/post-Seattle vista, their first album drew on both of those scenes but twisted them just enough to make a record that had its own identity – like it belonged with them, but stood in its own space too. Less geologically huge than the Kyuss behemoth, and far less self conscious than the grunge second wave, KTB’s debut flickers with goth-ish smalltown shadows.

Contributing to this is the very thing they’re best known for not having: a singer. Though there were short-lived links to John Garcia back in the day (revived later with 2010’s on-form Appalachian Incantations bonus disc), the vocalist on Karma’s first full-length is Jay Jarosz, who… well, exactly. WHO? No idea. But his boot-scraping drawl more than does the job on the debut, especially on Joy Division’s Twenty Four Hours. Can you imagine John Garcia laying into that with his desert-dried sandpapered pipes? Me neither. You need some sort of anonymity to pull that source off, and by my reckoning Jarosz nails it right on.

Opening tracks Ma Petit Mort and Bobbi Bobbi Bobbi (I’m Not God) are – musically – pure Karma, shoved along by Will Mecum’s pile-driver rhythm, but the difference between Karma Then and Karma Ever Since lies in where those tracks go. They don’t end as they start. Bobbi Bobbi Bobbi has not one but TWO singers (heresy?) and the two-pronged vocal fork turns it into a wild eyed anthem, with Octavia Lambertis’s untamed soar flying strato-high while Jarosz hauls it out by the baritones. It’s about as far away as you could get from the later Karma to Burn ethos, but you can hear the track in three-piece instrumental form easily enough. It turns up just a year later, retitled as Three, at the back end of Wild Wild Purgatory (KTB have a habit of rerecording their own stuff). Is it good? Sure. Better? No, but we’ll get to that later.

Back in Debut Land, we’ve got atmos to contend with – Six Gun Sucker Punch flips from lysergic stupor to switchblade aggro, while (Waltz of the) Playboy Pallbearers lures like a serial killer, and it’s moments like these that define the KTB debut. The smell of Nowhere, USA, the faint bad-head of trippy ingestion. You can feel it in the hazed start to Mt Penetrator. Where Kyuss cranked it up in the desert night so they could jam colossal, Karma to Burn sound like they retreat to the foothills to pour moonshine, do ouija and break shit. Or people.

Tracks five, nine and twelve are the instrumentals – Eight, Thirteen and Six, if you want their titles – and though this shows where Karma were heading, we didn’t know that back then, and we definitely didn’t know that numbered instrumentals would become EVERYTHING. Again, we gotta mention Kyuss because they’d already set a high bar for wordless segues like Caterpillar March on Blues for the Red Sun, and Corrosion of Conformity and Down were putting instrumentals in records just like Sabbath and Zep did decades earlier. Riff masters, all. But Caterpillar sounds like it was always meant to be an instrumental, as do Without Wings and 2121313 from CoC’s Deliverance. Karma to Burn’s Eight doesn’t. Eight is a full-length, full-form track with verse-bridge-chorus bits in all the right places – it just doesn’t have any vocals. Which could be a bit lacking, right? But somehow, it lacks nothing. It really fucking works, as do Thirteen and Six.

In fact, everything works. No sub-par moments, no boredom drop offs, and the moodier turns – Joy Division especially – could only have been pulled off by this version of the band: the one with the singer. It’s those shades and shifts that make Karma to Burn’s debut more of a complete listening experience than the riff-onlys that came after, and that’s why it’s the album that gives the most. Sez me, anyway.

But is it the real Karma to Burn?

You gotta say no. The singer was a record-label compromise, and if you’ve ever caught the band on a good night backed by stacks of amps, you’ll know that stripped and lean is where it’s at.

And there lies the Karma to Burn paradox.

To be continued???

KARMA TO BURN PLAY THE CELLAR IN OXFORD, JUNE 27 2018. DESERT STORM ON SUPPORT DUTY. DO NOT MISS

SHORTPARIS: nacxa

Restless moves and fidget dance. The underlit Factory warehouse band, fired up by frag-ment-ology. New waves for the art-house in your headspace.

Talkin’ shite. What is Shortparis?

When Mary Anne Hobbs first played them on her 6 Music Recommends show, gushing with unbound enthuso after seeing them destroy some festival or other, she mentioned Joy Division – something about the shadows and the intensity. The track was Beceno (all the titles are in Russian script, which I can’t type properly), and if Beceno is your first Shortparis exposure then it’s damned hard to shake those joy-di visions from your mind’s eye: robust paranoia, unseen twitchiness, confident uncertainty, rock-not-really. Nikolay Komiagin sings with a high pitch that pulls Beth Gibbons’s tense nervosa to mind, and Beceno’s on-the-run mood could fit Portishead’s Third, though it’s the only track that could. The rest of nacxa is way more up. Way more DANCE.

Shortparis: nacxa

Shortparis: twitchy and addictive

But it’s not dance dance. Track 1’s industrial-retro kick with upfront tight-funk bass bounces right back to post-punk – no particular band, more the era and the experimenting vibe. Post-punk something is at play. And then, taut across the tops, is the voice you don’t understand.

Track 2 drops the Horn (Trevor): massive ZTT-style keyboard stabs over stilted bass, gearing up for the Shortparis percussion collective to ramp it up into a worldly electro rhythm thing. It’s a potent mix, perhaps best shown off on the title track – Parisienne nights with dark exotica throb – and the following track’s John Carpenter menace meets Bowie’s Outside: Wishful Beginnings.

Can you pin Shortparis down? Not really. Not beyond a culture-sample soundclash that feels like a guitar band but isn’t. Shortparis ride the fluid, anything-goes rush of Flamingods and Comet is Coming, maybe even Antidote-era Foals, but with different sources. There’s something of the industrial about this lot: danceable, yet not quite celebratory. Primitive. A bit tense.

Download the album and you get two tracks labelled as B-sides at the end. Ma Russie, sung in French, is a synth-heavy funker, and Yqueen ups the machine-rock action with drums that threaten a Nine Inch Nails storm. Shortparis make a global music not ethno-rootsy but rhythm-heavy, urban and nocturnal.

Music for subway nights.

Communal and solitary.

Body music by head people.

(Bowie would have loved it, surely).

John Doran writ large about this crew in the Quietus – a lot of words, if you want to make sense of them – but the album is steal of the year, just TWO DOLLARS at Shortparis bandcamp. Don’t let that price cheapen the quality of your attention, though. This is not background device-filler. Shortparis are onto something special.

DESERT STORMS AND SKELLINGTONS

APRIL REWIND: THE RETURNS OF RECORD STORE DAY, DESERT STORM AND JULIAN COPE. BUT CALEB SCOFIELD DEPARTS.
It was a wet one, but apart from rain, what happened in April?
Record Store Day 11
We love record shops. Never visit a new town without sniffing them out, never pass the chance to frequent the local, and this is why Record Store Day feels like it should be a big deal but ends up being a bit … contrived frothing over forged rarities? Like a weird-o Christmas Day for reco)))rd shoppers. Weird because the list is dished out by $anta well ahead of the day, weird because the toys have been specially made for the event, weird because none of the toys are trulymadlydeeply drawn from your own well. And if you convince yourself into chasing something from this monopoly of taste, and said thing makes it into the shop that day and you’re able to lay fingers on it, you get the privilege of paying through the nostrils. Some Christmas. If you buy CDs and dare not to have a turntable, forget it – zero specials for you, because you are not part of the Record Store Day M.O. It’s a vinyl-only club, a 7–12-inch exclusivity zone roped off from the Greater Good that is music in physical formats. In shops.
So, 2018 played out exactly the same as 2017, just different records to gloss over once the queues had gone. Tom Waits offered a momentary flutter when the Orphans cover loomed, but it was Bawlers, the zero-interest one of the three,. Anyway, just like last year, salvation came from the vinyl sale box where Cannots by Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker popped up – didn’t even know such a thing existed, so it’s a welcome and timely discovery given that Walker’s new album is imminent. Ace find from proper browse. Bye-bye Record Store Day. Hello record shop, next week, as usual.

Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker - Cannots LP

This year’s RSD pick-up. From 2016

DESERT STORM: Sentinels
Much more rewarding than RSD’s general waxploitation was Sentinels by Oxford’s own Desert Storm. Fuck me, this is solid. And big. And assured. And if you like your rock to be, er, metallic and groovus, Sentinels should be on your list. When I last saw Desert Storm I vowed to catch up with their albums but, like an arse, I didn’t. Didn’t go beyond Forked Tongues, which is why Sentinels feels like a huger jump. This, surely, is Desert Storm fully formed. The sometimes caricatured vocal tics of the Forked days have gone and Matt Ryan now gives us proper gruff metal range more like the live shows, veering from gut-low ferals to Jaz Coleman anthemics to part-spoken calm. Kingdom of Horns does this brilliantly, a quietly drifting trip that swings a 180 to the other extreme and back.
Tracks like Drifter will no doubt satisfy the Clutch crowd, but Sentinels is more metallic and the closing two tracks, Convulsion and Capsized, showcase Desert Storm’s star quality in 2018. Check the former’s multi-riff orgy – part doomed stoner, part thrash, part Entombed-sized roll – then cruise on Capsized’s slick downtuned power to a closing solo soar worthy of Crippled Black Phoenix. Check it all here, best of luck, fellas.
JULIAN COPE: Skellington 3
He’s back! Last time, it was personal (Skellington 2, 1993). 25 years on, we get the third instalment, a new batch of the Drude’s so-called orphan songs and ‘acid campfire spirit’. If you know Skellington, you’ll know Skellington 3. Stripped down, often acoustic, sometimes off-key yet oft-times Cope-classic melodic (Parallel University, Very Krishna, Catch Your Dreams Before They Slip Away), it’s a ramshackle shot of a fast-moving Cope in songwriter mode. As ever, head to Head Heritage.
Hardcore bass loss
If you’re on the Hydra Head email list, you’ll have seen the subject line that came through around a month ago: The Caleb Scofield Memorial Fundraising Preorder. Then you’ll have done a double take. Memorial? Sadly, yes. The bass player for Cave In, Old Man Gloom and Zozobra passed away on March 28th after a car accident a road toll. He was 39. There goes the blood of some core Hydra Head noisery, all vital to the world of heavy. White Silence: crank it up to deafening.
’til next time.

MARCH OF THE BIG GUNS

MARCH REWIND: CORROSION AND PRIEST DELIVERANCE THE GOODS. TOOL MAN DOES NAUTICAL OFFSHOOT

Some pretty big names came out to play in March, so here are our customary first impressions of a couple or three. Warning: contains heavy metals.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY: No Cross No Crown
Not strictly – or even slightly – a March release, given that the vinyl came out in February, but who cares? A new record from a Keenan CoC is a 2018 event, so there’s no rush … everything in its own time. A bit like No Cross No Crown itself.

Corrosion of Conformity No Cross No Crown vinyl

No Cross No Crown: no corrosion of CoC values

As soon as Novus Deus’s heart-beating doom-tinged Thin Lizzy lead-in gets underway and into The Luddite, you sense an enormous record opening out ahead, and so it turns out to be. Up-sized rockage, guitar parts multiplied and solos snaking across the many twists of riff, it nabs the best of CoC and gives it the max factor. Corrosion Complete. Keenan’s Down-time must have done them a ton of good as a four because they’re re-fired with vitality – check Cast the First Stone’s raging burn, check the return of the instrumental interludes, check the southernfrieddoompsycheheft of Nothing Left to Say. It adds up to CoC just doing their thing really, really well. No surprises

except Queen.

Yes. Son and Daughter. YES. Grin your head off at the ludicrous brilliance of heavyweight Queen made over by these unglam non-pomp veterans, then submit to a face-gurning rock-out as Brian May’s timeless riff calls time on Corrosion’s studio return. They must have had a blast doing that one. No Cross No Crown: mature, wizened and quite possibly all we’ll need from a heavy rock set in 2018.

JUDAS PRIEST: Firepower
When you get an earworm two days after your first and only hearing of a track, you know something is horribly right or more-horribly wrong: stride forth Children of the Sun, you metallic hooksome bastard. From where? From Judas Priest’s new Firepower set. Seen the reviews? Best since Painkiller, they say. I didn’t buy any post-Painkiller Priest, so cannot join that comparative choir, but just one run-through of Firepower tells you that this album is wholly unadulterated metal, in Priest’s finest un-adult way. If you grew up with Painkiller, Firepower is a mainline to your adolescence – it is EXACTLY of Painkiller’s ilk. Everything feels either like you’ve heard it before or you knew it was coming, and yet somehow it feels right. Halford sounds no older, the twin leads bleed melody and the Allom/Sneap production insulates you from the world’s daily grind, maybe even from time itself. This is escapist listening. The title track and Evil Never Dies burst with thrash speed, but for the most part we get mid-paced metal that has all the metal/Priest tropes. It even ends with a fucking ballad. And you know what? GOOD. Lone Wolf is the biggest diversion, proving that Priest can pen a dirty lurch equal to Metallica’s greasier Load moments. So yeah, press Firepower and give yourself permission to bloody well enjoy it.

LEGEND OF THE SEAGULLMEN: Legend of the Seagullmen
Danny Carey. Brent Hinds. Holy Tool-odon, what’s this Seagullmen shit??? And can I wipe it off without burning my eyes?

If the name sounds like it fell out of a Mighty Boosh brain dump, so do the music’s characters. We’ve got The Fogger, The Seagull God King and a 400,000 year-old pirate called Redbeard, all mixed up in tales about curses and red tides and orcas and giants and oceanic karma. Hollywood director-animator Jimmy Hayward plays guitar. Hmmm. So far so daft, right? Got some decent chops lurking though (Carey, Hinds, Zappa Plays Zappa bassist Pete Griffin), but aside from Masto-man Hinds and his searing solos – Curse of the Red Tide and Rise of the Giant being two current faves – all other muso pretensions are lost to the epic seafarer metal demanded by The Doctor’s concepts. It’s not the mystical prog opus you might expect or hope – Tool meets Mastodon it definitely ain’t, and it sure won’t be challenging Tool in the sobriety stakes. But if you’re a fan of the players involved, you’re going to want to check it out, and because you’re a fan, you’ll look to give it a shade more benefit than doubt, even if it doesn’t match up to its players’ reps.

Right, that’s that. With Between the Buried and Me (Automata I) and Oxford’s own Desert Storm (Sentinel) also kicking out top notch new jams, as well as the still-unheard Mindfucker by Monster Magnet, it’s been a heavy month with no time for avant adventures. METAL ONLY.

Hang on, what’s that? Anthroprophh just put out Omegaville? Right…

’til next time!

MOTORHEAD: Sacrifice

Can you tell the mood of a band from the sound of an album?

If there’s one thing that comes through on Sacrifice, it’s a band TIRED. Or annoyed. Or pissed off. Or all of that and summat else too. There’s a weariness and a breaking-point groucho to this album, probably stirred by Wurzel’s place (and soon to be ex place) in the band. He left when it was done, marking the end of the Burston years and, with it, the end of Motorhead as a four. Check the photo on the back of your CD to see if Wurzel is in it – pretty sure I once read that he was taken off the back cover of later pressings. From then on it was Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey, right up to the day the Motor’s engine died on December 28th, 2015.

So yeah, Sacrifice is tired but in no way is it slow, and it’s definitely one of the more diverting Motorhead listens. Awkward, aggressive and downtuned heavy, Sacrifice is muddy as shit, miles away from Bastards‘ sunnier Californi-crunch, and all the better for it. That’s not to say that Bastards is iffy – Burner, Death or Glory and Liar see to that – but it dips in the middle and Born to Raise Hell is shite. Sacrifice is where Motorhead get neck-deep dirty with some muscular chops.

Motorhead Sacrifice

Brutal end of an era

Let’s start with Mikkey Dee, because the drums here are fucking knockout.

A then-future Dee said, on the Inferno bonus DVD, that it would be so easy to overplay Motorhead songs and complicate them, but even though he doesn’t overplay and never has, it does feel like he was cut some drumming slack – either that or he asserted himself and called more shots, ‘coz his second full album with the band sees him contribute a lot more than just tempo shifts.

First track Sacrifice is your archetypal Motorhead firestarter. Like Judas Priest’s Painkiller, drums define the intro, but where Scott Travis went hell bent for speed in one of the metal’s bestest opening gunfires, Dee cuts a rumbling discharge loose that totally sets the mood for the record. Bruising. After Sex & Death dishes a quick 12-bar punk ‘n’ rollock, Over Your Shoulder throws the first of those Sacrifice ball curves:

Was that a mistake in the intro?

Flick it back. Play it again. Miss the beat again.

Eh??? Feels like Dee comes in late and corrects everything, but it’s no error – they do it again later, and it’s doubly weird when you hear it in a Motorhead track because … well, because this is Motorhead and they play rock and roll, right? Yet this tiny bit of rhythm-shifting becomes a top Sacrifice moment precisely because it’s so un-Headly. Love it. Hulking groove-beast of a tune, too.

Right then, a couple of other Sacrifice killers. Despite its weary intro, Order/Fade to Black is a monster – wait for the pick-up AND the pick-up’s pick-up for double-kick manna that makes air-drum goons of us all. Throw in a sleaze-bender blues metal breakdown afore a final speedout and you’ve got a pretty packed four minutes.

Dog-Face Boy is DOWN. As in, tuned down, further down. Again, not your typical Motorhead move (a nod to the prevailing grunge winds of the day?), but the dog-face one shoves it right up the mid-tempos, Motorhead-style.

Make ’em Blind has zero guitar, not till the midway when solos square up and face off, and even then they’re knocked back in a distant squall. Before then we get rhythm and a cappella as Dee pairs it up with Lem’s bass-and-growl for a military march, but one that’s more off-road stealth than parade-ground flash. It’s arrangements like this that pull Sacrifice up and out from any bogged-downers you might have got from mudsome first impressions.

Seeing as we’re speaking of bogs, does anything sink the album?

Not really. It’s not long, and there are no dodgy covers, which always helps. Don’t Waste Your Time is the token rock ‘n’ roll workout, but it’s one of their better ones, snatching Going to Brazil‘s vibe and even laying on some S-A-X, though the Brazil good-mood is squashed by Sacrifice’s general scowliness. You might say that Out of the Sun is an anticlimactic closer, but even then there’s a redemptive bass and solo outro.

Sacrifice has brute force. It’s a battler. War is a standard topic for Motorhead, but Sacrifice sounds like it almost IS war – a band fighting with trench slogs and breaking points, Lemmy barking the orders with middle-aged hoarse. You can feel the tension and the strain

and yet, it’s a great record, one that moves off the template a bit and lacks neither pace nor groove. If you’re doing a Motorhead gap-fill of their later years, don’t skip it – Sacrifice is a proper gnarly bastard.

Motorhead: Sacrifice – released 1995 on Steamhammer

This review was started a while ago, intended for the first anniversary of Lemmy’s passing. Didn’t get anywhere near finishing it. The idea was to shine a yellowed fading torch on some of those less mentioned non-‘classic’ Motorhead albums, but now that Eddie Clarke has joined Lemmy and Philthy in the Great Bar in the Sky, we just have to give him a mention after a non-Eddie review. But what can we say that his guitar hasn’t said already? Better just to pick a bunch of top Fast EC moments and play them, like We Are the Road Crew’s ferocious solo and feedbacker ending. And Ace of Spades, obvs. And the whole of Overkill. RIP Eddie Clarke.

RIP CLASSICMOTORHEADLINEUP

THE WILDHEARTS: Endless, Nameless

NOISY ANOMALY FROM CLASS OF ’97

Tin-can drums, way high in the mix. Dry-bone guitars trebled to the max. Mega bass shocks and overamped noise. This is Anthem, the first single from Endless, Nameless.

Fuck me. What happened to the Wildhearts?

Where are the sticky sweet melodies and riff ‘n’ roll majesty of Earth vs… and P.H.U.Q.? The multi-part stretch-out of Fishing for Luckies, or the Motorhead speed scuzz of Caffeine Bomb? The TUNES, where are the tunes?

Gone. Bombed out.

Sort of.

Wildhearts: Endless, Nameless

Endless, Nameless: tuneless? No

This was a New Era for the Wildhearts, an era that sounded like the end. Before then, Ginger’s gang were a volatile technicolour splatter on a po-grunge backdrop, a gang who gave good chaos both on and off record – vids like this (nice vom) and stunts like this (nice Kerrang! visit) made sure of that, which would all count for knack-all if the music blew, but … it very definitely didn’t, as the albums and A-grade B-sides show. But if drugs, bust ups and breakdowns were standard operating procedure for this lot, by ’97 it had got a whole lot darker: band members fired (CJ), sort-of band members AWOL (Mark Keds), rehab yo-yo (Danny McCormack), attempted suicide (Ginger) – and Endless, Nameless masks none of it. Do a mood-check on this bunch of cheery-bastard titles: Junkenstein, Pissjoy, Heroin, Thunderfuck, Why You Lie?

What reading do you get?

PHUQ-ed off, probably. Far less fun than TV Tan for sure, but the titles are just the half of it. The real sign that Things Are Bad is the nihilistic production job that quarantines this album from everything else they’ve done. Some reviews give it the white noise tag, but that’s overstating it – it’s not Wolf Eyes, it’s the Wildhearts, and they’re still a of bunch of dirt glam hook-ers loaded with tunes and smash-it-up attitude no matter what state they’re in. There IS noise, though. It’s in the production, a permanent stimulation that kinda tires your head. For a song-based record, a record where you expect and get hooks, verses and choruses, it’s pretty rough on the senses.

Junkenstein fires a savage warning to any fairweather fan. By far the hardest Wildhearts tune released up to that point (outdone by Why You Lie? on side 2), it’s industrialised, thrashy, pissed off and vital – more a two-minute warning than a tune. What’s not to love? NOTHING.

Nurse Maximum pulls the tempo back down to mid, at least for the verse, in a bit of a cool-off after Junkenstein’s jarring abrasions, but when Anthem’s unsubtle clank makes its move, you wonder where the record’s going … Anthem doesn’t feel like killer Wildhearts and we’re already three tracks in. At this point on Earth vs The Wildhearts we’d had Greetings from Shitsville, TV Tan and Everlone. Classics all. PHUQ’s opening 1-2-3 was I Wanna Go Where the People Go, V-Day and Just in Lust. Same deal. EN’s third track is sung by Danny McCormack: ‘I’m in love with the rock and roll world.’

Not exactly Ginger-sharp wordplay, is it?

But although this literal ode to the rock and roll world might not fire rockets on first listen, it’s not quite the braindead slog you first think, either – with Danny on vox, the words have a more autobiographical bent, and when the tune’s rammed with so much anti-pop production that it all but destroys itself, it feels like a metaphor for the band, McCormack especially. A grower of sorts

unlike Urge

Urge is no grower because it’s full-grown massive already, an instant shiner from the new dark Wildhearts. Check that slam-riffed mega shake, the in-and-out-of-sync verse (yet more overstimulation), the post-chorus bass-drum boooooom….yeah, the boom. Not the first appearance of this signature OTT Endless sonic, but it is the best pure earth quaker, an on-the-one detonation. Rumour goes that part-time Wildheart/full-time metal-oid Devin Townsend used it for his own endless ends on Infinity, but whatever the story and however it came about, it ramps up the imbalance and no doubt cracked some roadwork for Ginger’s more out-there adventures, not least the mad-bad Mutation project.

By now, after four tracks, you know that things are not going to clean up. There will be no singalonga Nita Nitro, there will be no normal production. There will be a kids’ chorus, though – Piss, JOY, NAAA NA-NA NA-NA – and a wrecked cover of Dogs D’Amour’s Heroine (here called Heroin) with drums distorted to shit, vocals ditto, volume levels ragged. Wasted and louche. Why You Lie? is so feral that it strangles the air out of you, and by the time it disintegrates, you’re spent. Thunderfuck’s mellow gives some respite at the album’s end, but it’s a wearisome downer. The sound of engines, the smell of burning. Torch it. Torch the lot. Over and out.

Endless, Nameless is a Wildhearts one-off, but it’s as true as any album that copped their classic sound – perhaps even more so. Abrasive industrial rock, hand-made by damaged human flaw-beings, it sits tight with a couple of other 90s records that were destructive reactions to predecessors – Warrior Soul’s Chill Pill and Ministry’s Filth Pig come to mind. The Wildhearts returned to their own vintage when they next got their shit together, but this one’s the unruly brother, the one you can’t ignore. It won’t let you.

Keep it maximum. 



MAY QUEENS: eponymous

ROCKING ONE-OFF FROM GOD CULT

God Machine. Ocean vast, yet lost – to Tumour, the Premature Life-ender. R.I.P.

Seven years after bassist Jimmy Fernandez’s death at 29, God Machine frontman Robin Proper-Sheppard put out this tidy number under the May Queens moniker in 2000, and you’d never make the connection. Short, catchy, carefree – everything the GM weren’t – this 30-minute self-titled wax job sits a lot closer to the just-off-mainstream rock of the day than the God Machine ever did, meaning it’ll never pull on your inner emo or inspire a cult-ish devotion like Sheppard-Fernandez-Austin’s machine trio.

But this sole (isn’t it?) May Queens release is worth nabbing if you get the chance, because it’s a summer breezer – an airy antidote to GM’s turbulent heavy weather – and it’s got an opening track that’s so charged it’s DANGEROUS. You know how some tracks always sound louder than the volume you’re on, like they’re too big to be contained by a mere recording process? Well, there’s a flash of that with Theme for the May Queen No.1 – Alright (Oh Yeah). 128 seconds of garage rattle ‘n’ roll, speeding with a slacker’s lack of lyrics (ooh yeah/alright, repeat), but that’s the way it has to be for a track like this – anything more literate than Sub-Moron would detract and distract from Theme No. 1’s enormo rock thrust.

The May Queens

The May Queens: alright (oh yeah)

And that thrust comes after the verse. Go back to Duel, from Swervedriver’s Mescal Head, and check the volume push on the riff in the chorus – the bit that makes you wanna hurl yourself around at a gig. Got it? So has Theme No.1, ‘cept it’s ramped up with centrifugal fling … and today, 17 years after a first hearing, it STILL slams hard. Try it. But if you’re about to bust your May Queen Theme 1 cherry, do it with speakers or headphones that carry some welly, eh? No point fumbling a premature blowout on a tinny tiny device-hole… give yourself some room.

After such a launch, what of the rest of the album? First, a couple of low-pressure warnings: Like a Record and Falling (Won’t You Fall In Too) are pretty non-descript janglers/punch-free pop, depending on how charitable you are. Other than those two though, the May Queens album is a solid summer spin. Closer hints at White Denim’s freewheeling cool – dusty rock for boot cuts – while Rollin’ nicks a Zep-ish slide-off and hammers it with the kind of clang that Archie Bronson Outfit struck on Derdang Derdang. Tonite coasts with a Pumpkins lilt on a summer’s eve.

The last cut revisits the title of the opening track, but not the music. Theme for the May Queen No. 2 – Car Crash (Pulsating Core) is a deliciously warped Bond theme surfing with Man or Astroman, and it’s waaaaay too short. If the May Queens had jammed on crash for another 5 minutes and knocked Falling off, it would have swung the record nearer to the road’s edge than the middle.

So, more of a lost favourite than a stone chilled classic, this record suits if Swervedriver’s heavy overdrive and pop nous has served you well in years gone by (not surprising, given Adam Franklin and Robin Proper-Sheppard’s shared history and Sophia/Sophia Collective overlap). 

May Queens: sunshine cool with a Theme-time burn.