Tuesday, September 13, 2011

REVIEW: Bloody Hollies -- Yours Until the Bitter End

In my year end top 17 list of albums from 2010, I offered a small wish-list of things I might like to see happen in 2011. I can't remember what they were for the most part, but they were music related -- no world peace or end hunger or all that -- more along the lines of long-term goals like forming a Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds tribute band or maybe even an April Wine tribute band. The thing I do remember, though, is I was hoping that after a four year silence, the Bloody Hollies would release a new album. Well today that last wish was delivered with a vengeance, as Alive Naturalsound Records released the scorching fourth full length from the San Diego blues punk four-piece, Yours Until the Bitter End.

The Bloody Hollies started out as a three-piece garage band in Buffalo. On their brilliant 2003 debut Fire at Will, they wore their AC/DC influence on their collective sleeve. Songs like "Downtown Revolver", "Blood Pressure" and "Hard Bitten" sound like they could have been covers from Let There Be Rock or High Voltage. The next record, 2005's If Footmen Tire You, saw strains of swamp and surf creeping in, without any loss of intensity. Singer/guitarist Wesley Doyle moderated his voice from the full-on screech of the first record to something closer to a Gun Club-type menacing wail. Being with Alive Records meant a little more production budget -- spent very wisely on legendary Detroit engineer Jim Diamond. Three songs on that album, "Mind Control", "Gasoline" and "Raised by Wolves", are in my all-time top 100.

In the wake of Footmen's significant critical acclaim, Doyle moved to San Diego and reformed the band as a four-piece, bringing on Joey Horgen to amp up the bluesy side of things on slide guitar, and a Superfly TNT, Guns of the Navarone rhythm section in drummer Matthew Bennett and bassist Eric Noorgard. Every critic who bothered to listen to it called 2007's Who to Trust, Who to Kill, Who to Love one of the best pure rock and roll albums of that or any year. Songs like "The Rain", with its beautifully excessive wah-wah lead, "Attica Rocks" and "Satanic Satellite" (so cool it ended up in a video game commercial) should have established them as festival headliners across the globe. Alas, they didn't, and we've had to pay for it by waiting lo these many years for their next step.

Fortunately the wait is over, and it was worth it. For the new record, the band went back to Jim Diamond, and he and they are pushing the sound boldly forward. That's not to suggest they're blazing new trails here -- they're not. Leave all that stuff to Grizzly Bear and Panda Bear and whatever other ursine chamber acts might be out there. Yours Until the Bitter End is but a further genius refinement of the garage/swamp/blues/punk amalgam that they do far better than anyone else.

The album opener, "So Grey, So Green", starts with a rumbling bass/drum that's then sliced with a western guitar motif supported by campy organ that feels lifted from a Wall of Voodoo song. It avoids becoming new wave by reverting to a primal progression of bar chords and Doyle's plaintive wail -- that is, textbook Bloody Hollies.

My favorite two songs happen to be the two heaviest -- "Dead Letter" and "I Dream of Bees". The former might be classified, with a nod to Diamond, as pure Detroit garage muscle. I remember when I was a kid and listened for the first time to "What is and What Should Never Be", and thought that the idea that four guys could create this much pure noise was maybe the greatest thing that ever was. "Dead Letter" sounds nothing like that song, but there's a point where the sound is so loud, so pure, so insistent, that the band sounds possessed. It might be their finest moment, but "I Dream of Bees" makes me have second thoughts about that. I posted the video for this song a few days ago, but an encore posting is better than another goofy reviewer's description.

There are people with better music taste than I who I'd expect to point to a less harsh, more bluesy tune like "Dirty Sex" as being the high point, and I'd find it hard to argue the point. It's based around Horgen's electric and acoustic slide guitars, including an overt homage to Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying." Fantastic stuff. I understand that the band is offering "Dirty Sex" as a free download, but damned if I know how to link you to it. I'll try to figure out how to do that, and if I can, I'll either edit or it'll be in the comments section. You can listen to the song here.

If I had to complain, it probably would take the form of expressing my hope that the band avoid getting too campy with the B-Horror lyrics/guitar/keyboards thing. "Good Night, Sleep Tight" at points comes perilously close to reminding me of Count Floyd introducing "Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Stewardesses" on Monster Chiller Horror Theater. That is, until my mind is wiped by yet another blistering lead.

I usually like to post more musical evidence with my fawning reviews of my favorite bands, but "I Dream of Bees" is the only new song supported by a video, live or otherwise. I posted some other Bloody Hollies videos, as well as a link to a stream of the entire first side of the new album, in this post about six weeks ago.

Check this record out. It might be the best of the year.

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