(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Recording review - The Electric Mess, Falling Off The Face Of The Earth (2012)

Distorted and fuzzy, but never low-fi - garage psyche perfected

Many bands aspire to the retro haze of garage psychedelia, filling their tracks with a messy wall of guitar fuzz and driving beats. Emphasizing the garage side, they revel in the sloppy catharsis of low-fi sound.

But The Electric Mess achieve a perfected form of the genre. Lovingly engineered, Falling Off the Face of the Earth proves that garage psych credibility doesn't require low-fi sonic fuzzballs. Instead, the recording reveals every detail from Esther Crow's hoarse rasp and its tasty reverb placement to the hyper throb of Derek Davidson's twisting bass lines. The leads are smooth and balanced as they trade between the richly overdriven guitars, with their perfect vintage tone, and the trippy organ as it braids a heady chain of wheezing notes.

Esther Crow occasionally offers a sweet female vocal, but usually fronts the band with her drag alter ego, Chip Fontaine. With a cocky swagger, Fontaine's gruff voice alternates between sly innuendo, macho posing, and flirtatious teasing. Fontaine's persona reaches its peak on Nice Guys Finish Last, as he outlines his plan to turn into a cad to get the girl. Rough and ready, his attitude sells the songs.

The clarity of the mix doesn't tame the edge of The Electric Mess' sound. They draw on a host of classic influences: Soft Machine, the early Doors work, ? and the Mysterians, the 13th Floor elevators, and Velvet Underground all come to mind at various points on Falling Off the Face of the Earth. On I Didn't Miss You At All, Oweinma Biu's lead vocal sounds like Roky Erickson. The vocal arrangement pits his voice against Crow's and together, they create a whipsaw energy. The beat is steady as the guitars lay down an acid shred groove. The anarchy of Dan Crow's guitar solo is supported by Davidson's hard rocking, melodic bass.

On Tell Me Why, the tweedly organ line recalls ? and the Mysterians, but the beat is hyper intense. The Electric Mess creates a headlong rush punctuated by great slow-down moments that open up the song for a brief break before the breakneck pace is reasserted. Biu's keyboard solo drifts further out into space, dragging the rest of the band along. Fontaine channels his inner Elvis near the end of the track before the song's inevitable meltdown. This is three minutes of garage psyche perfection.

True to the genre's psychedelic roots, "The Girl With The Exploding Dress" is filled with trippy lyrics:
You've probably seen her before
On your favorite dancing floor
I won't mind if you take her hand
Just try to understand
She's got x-rays in her eyes
She's blinded lots of guys
If I were you I'd keep my glasses on
Craig Rogers' drumming is densely packed with fills as he propels the track forward. It's the kind of over-the-top playing that can only work when the whole band falls tightly together to hold the groove together. The Electric Mess makes it sound trivially easy.

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