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. 


DEARLY BELOVED – Enduro

Did you see Dearly Beloved tearing round Blighty with Swervedriver the other month? No? Then you missed a pretty brisk support act so it’s only right that we spread the love and support the support with a few words about their 2014 rekkid, Enduro. Since snapping it up at the Oxford show (sold by singer Niva Chow, no less) it’s become a real Fast-Gro listen this past month: ten-tracks jammed with snagging hooks, propulsive bass and boy-girl vocal swaps that steer the Canadian four piece well clear of all-guy r.o.c.k. stereotypes.

Back at the Oxford O2 – the gig with zero audience participation, remember? – it was the bass that nicked your first impressions, mostly because singer/four-stringer Rob Higgins wasn’t shy of actually playing the fucker and giving it some action, not just in a rhythm sense but in that bass-as-guitar kinda way as well, stoking up a thickened fuzzbed for the rest of the Dearlys to play off … feel the warmth. And when you find that the Enduro album was put together en Mojave in Rancha de la Luna – studio home to Kyuss, Desert Sessions, Masters of Reality and the just-returned Goatsnake ffs, to name just four – with Dave Earthlings? Catching at the helm then you start to join some dots. Perhaps there really is a bit of Joshua Tree dust trapped in DB’s attack? Seeing the boho-intense set-up at Rancha in the Los Angeles episode of Dave Grohl’s fckn brilliant Sonic Highways series, it looks impossible NOT to be infiltrated by the environment, and our very own Sheffield Monkeys are proof of that. Got the arctic stripped right off ’em.

But despite all this desert talk, Dearly Beloved aren’t stoner behe-moths hanging round a night light on a never-ending jam to infinity. They’re sharp, lean and schooled in the 3-minute arts, and first track Enduro fairly flies off the bat with White Denim hyper-ness and a rubber riff rebound. Buried somewhere in this kickstarter is one of THE names in the whole of desert rock-dom – yes, reality’s master hisself, Chris Goss – but to be honest, you can’t really hear him. Maybe a tiny bit.

(you can’t)

Still, his very presence is a pointer to the Enduraesthetic because although Dearly Beloved are punk energy – think Pulled Apart By Horses without the screamo – they weave in some Goss-like space and sensibility too, as on Astor Dupont Payne and the gently reflective Ether Binge. At the other end of the Enduro scale is a full burn Guile of Pricks (great title) and the twisting Not My Pig, a dirt-low filth riff punctured by space, bass and Niva’s detached vocal cool. Album highlight right there.

At 28 minutes end to end it’s a short set, but it ain’t short of adventure – stick it on and get a feelgood hit for the summer. Check ’em out right here.

SWERVEDRIVER live

OXFORD O2, 22 May 2015

This is awkward.

On stage, Dearly Beloved. In front of them, NOTHING. Beyond the nothing, at the back of the room, punters. Must be a bad smell coming off that band coz it’s a big gap and it feels like a void, yet it doesn’t deter DB from hitting it like headliners. Maybe they’re used to big spaces. They are from Canada.

The problem here isn’t the music (and there’s no repulso whiff either, thank feck). It’s age. See those whip-thin 19-year-olds ready to Destroy the Void with kinetic energy and mass kickass? Exactly. Not bloody here, are they? This is a Swervedriver gig, which means that when Dearly Beloved look out from that stage, they see history: the early middle agers. Poor bastards.

But if they’re gutted they don’t show it, impressing with short multi-riff tracks, stacks of gear shifts and upfront bass that’s warmthickwarm with Royal Blood yet flanked by guitars for a proper desert-punk attack. Listening to their Enduro album, recorded down at the Joshua Tree with Dave Catching and a walk-on from no less a maestro than Chris Goss, they do not disappoint on CD either.

With Swervedriver, you know exactly what you’re gonna get: tunes and melodies roughened just enough by pedal-action, volume and distortion. Simple enough, innit? Not much looks to have changed since they were on this very stage in 2008 except that they’ve now got a new record out, Mick Quinn from Supergrass is standing in on bass patrol and everyone here is seven years balder/fatter/greyer or, at the very least, just seven years older. Adam Franklin still looks to me like he should be in Clutch, but the local rag has a different band in mind.

I picked up the Oxford Mail today,” says the soft-spoken frontmanfella. “It had a Swervedriver feature that we did.”

[slight pause]

“They printed a picture of the Thurston Moore Band.”

Nice. Still, no-one here’s in any doubt about who Swervedriver are and for a sizeable few it’s a chance to live it up like 1995. Me, I’m just after a few of those glory-day faves at High Volume – not diehard enough to be chasing the new album, but a chance to hear Raise/Mezcal gems live and loud? Shityeah, and when For Seeking Heat, Deep Seat and Rave Down land pretty early it’s clear we’ve got a crowd-pleaser ahead. Son of Mustang Ford spikes the pace and Franklin still looks right at home coaxing mini storms from that frayed Jazzmaster, so much so that you just start to wonder and hope … maybe they’ll cut loose with a full-squall never-ender? Will they? But it’s a distant hope because tonight’s not the time. Tonight’s about the tunes, and on that front the best is definitely saved til last with a brace of Mezcal highs – locomotive surf-psyche beaster Last Train to Satansville (their greatest 6 minutes 45, no?), and the woozily muscular Duel to finish. THIS is why you come and see Swervedriver live: a Mezcal Head finale and muted hearing for the walk home. Mission accomplished.