There's been a lot of keyboard-bashing recently about the boundaries of psychedelic music. Lot's of pretty fruitless umming and ahhing about claiming bands for a certain movement or other. Lots of beard stroking and cogitating about how certain bands are nu-gaze (urghh) or neo-psych (ouch). All pretty introspective, and pretty appropriate if you think about it. But without wanting to get into a Foucauldian analysis of the classification of differernt-types of music, it doesn't really get us anywhere.
Dead Confederate, a hairy bunch of chaps from Georgia in the US, have just pushed Wrecking Ball into this space (whatever we may call it). It's an album that should make the purists shit themselves and that can only be a good thing.
The band were most recently seen in the UK on a bill that featured both Darker My Love and A Place To Bury Strangers – two bands that are more easily assimilated into the psychedelic domain so it's pretty easy to see how they are being marketed this side of the pond. On a first listen, it seems as though Dead Confederate are suffering from a similar musical identity crisis to all the British shoegazers – do they actually have an idea of how they fit into the musical landscape, and are they relevant in 2009?
I mean – just take a look at them – all checked shirts and sideburns – at a first glance you could be looking at an early 90s picture of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains or Mudhoney. On record, as well, a large part of their music does – initially at least – seem to borrow from the hard rock/grunge traditions. Hardy Morris' vocals are the first thing that strike you – the raspy, emotional strains that wouldn't seem out of place on a Nirvana record. The heavy, crunchy guitar chords, followed up with epic soloing not heard outside my angsty adolescent bedroom since around 1994. Songs such as 'Goner' sound could have fitted in nicely on the soundtrack to Clerks. And the stadium rock drumming – let's not forget that. So, are we all ready for the great grunge revival? Or are we talking about the dawn of the great 2009 Grunge-Gaze ((c) Russell Williams, 2009) movement?
Just when you think you've got the measure of Dead Confederate, and are ready to dismiss them as grunge-revivalists (I know I was) – well, that's when things get really interesting. After a couple of listens, you start to move beyond the lumberjack look and start to really appreciate their sensitive, epic songs. For all the heavy rock trappings, Wrecking Ball is a remarkably mature, and restrained album. Though they flirt with them, they never actually spill over into naff rock cliché territory. Their intensity remains shackled, and ultimately their plaything – in a similar way to The Black Angels or even Dead Meadow – something particularly pertinent on tracks like The News Underneath.
For me, Wrecking Ball was a pleasant surprise. At times, the album can feel a little one-paced, but the sheer joy of some of the songwriting on the album is its saving grace. All The Angels is worth the price of the album alone, it's certainly one of the best tracks I've heard all year. Definitely worth getting hold of, and worth sticking with.
Is it grunge? Maybe. Is it 'Psychedelic'? Possibly. Does it really matter?