Saturday, July 16, 2016

This Is The Sonics (2015)

The first album in 35 years from the classic garage-rockers of Tacoma, Washington, and the first batch of new material in even longer, is surprisingly good. Let's start with that, because I'm not sure how to put this across. I mean, it's really good. Behind the bland statement of judgment is a short and intense history of one year of jumping up and down and all around while it plays, playing it a few times in a row many days (the 12 songs come in around 35 minutes, so it's short), and stuff like that. Time has not dimmed them. If anything, it has burnished the rock 'n' roll attack made out of a saxophone, keyboards, guitar bass drum thrashing, and half-demented lyrical themes, with bluesy rough manners and a heavy rapid-fire bludgeon that somehow floats and rises at will. It follows naturally from the first two album, Here Are The Sonics (1965) and Boom (1966)—and that seems to be exactly the audacious attempt. Kudos to them for pulling this off. Some credit has to go to producer Jim Diamond (Dirtbombs, White Stripes), who obviously knew how to record them. But this is all Sonics. It's essentially the same crew, the same sound, and the same mindset behind "The Witch," "Psycho," "Boss Hoss," "Strychnine," and all of it. I saw them in Portland a year ago, where visually they looked more likely to be found on the tee box of a golf course, except wearing black leather instead of cardigans. But the music bawled out commandingly. The bottom is sludgy, almost murky, with rock-solid tempos, which are geared just back of high frenzy, and propulsive. On top of that they pile raunchy old blues figures, which are easily sensed in the titles: "I Don't Need No Doctor," "Bad Betty," "I Got Your Number" (which turns out to be 6-6-6), and "Livin' in Chaos." It's a slight shift in emphasis away from psychos and strychnine, but they have already established they know from that. In fact, "Livin' in Chaos" offers a bridge to another set of themes they're chasing down here, perhaps most surprising and heartening for me. Namely, some concerns about where we are and where we are headed. "Save the Planet" addresses it with typical cheek—"Save the planet, it's the only one with beer," goes the chorus—but it's still called "Save the Planet," and coming from oldsters now likely well familiar with the ins and outs of drawing Social Security, I appreciate the sincerity of the sentiment. They don't want to perish any more than any of the rest of us, though all they can do is rock. But if rocking is truly all they can do (and I suspect it isn't if they have reached their present ages), they sure as hell can do that well.

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