Monday, August 29, 2011

The Strange Attractors' "Midnight at Zochil's"

Since the last Strange Attractors release, 2009's Sleep and You Will See, there have been a few changes made, most significant of which is the departure of frontman Kevin Pearce.

Absent Pearce, his longtime collaborator Jeremy Diaz steps up to the mic. From his Dead Sexy glam-punk daze (I remember one particular occasion at Rubber Gloves when I observed a couple of garage-rock Nazis hissing, "He's using a wah-wah pedal!") through stints in A Capital Affair and This Damn Town (bands where I felt he was underutilized), into the messy morass of shoegazy psych that was the early Attractors, Jeremy's always had great chops and taste. As a longtime fan, I find it heartening to see him feeling assured enough in his singing and writing to finally lead the band.

New guitarist Dan Wilcox, who's also a member of Austin garage-rock supremos the Ugly Beats (who'll visit Lola's this Saturday), plays Sterling Morrison to Jeremy's Uncle Lou, providing a lighter, almost surf-like reverb-and-tremelo-drenched sound that contrasts well with the Attractors' trademark bed of drone, distortion and feedback. Drummer Jillian Jerk, a crisp and propulsive trap-kicker, joins another ex-Dead Sexyite, bassist Jen Tran (sadly absent on a recent Fort Worth jaunt) in the riddim section.

All of which is in service of a new found emphasis on songwriting. While Diaz and Co. aren't exactly penning pop hits, the newest set of Attractors songs are noteworthy for the presence of memorable bits and structural elements, rather than just serving as the sonic bath that much of their earlier material did. "Black and Mild" opens the proceedings with the kind of fuzzy thump-and-drone we've come to expect from the Attractors. Then Wilcox throws in a Morricone-esque guitar figure before the song proper commences, a hallucinatory tale of a trip from Texas to Memphis, sounding like something approximating Hawkwind playing the blooze.

On "Holy Scene," Wilcox adds some nice flourishes to the song's relentless forward motion. Jeremy's a limited singer who makes good use of spacey 'verb and F/X on his voice. The crunchy guitar-and-organ riff on the brief "Irator" is punctuated by some snazzy breaks. The modified boogie "Premonition Equinox" has a snaky organ riff reminiscent of the Shocking Blue's "Venus." "Pretty Boom Boom" is a surprise: a slow ballad, with Joe Mauldin-esque tub-thumping, a nicely lilting guitar line and a solo that almost gets into Richard Thompson territory.

The clean-toned guitars that open "Psycho Babel" are another surprise; the song itself is a straight-ahead rocker that's downright catchy, with a touch of twang in Wilcox's expansive solo. "Rock n Roll Pt. 10" isn't a Gary Glitter update like you might think; rather, it's a slice of almost-poppy garage rock with a classic chord progression and girl-group backing voxxx.

The Attractors saved their best for last, starting with the slow and stately "Shiny Beat," which pits Farfisa and piano ornamentation against a gnarly fuzzed-out riff. Jeremy dedicated "Sweet 17" to Stoogeaphilia when we recently shared a stage, and you can hear why: the intro's a cousin of the Stooges' "Real Cool Time," before the Attractors get down to business, with Wilcox riffing against the drone until Jeremy cuts loose with a Stooge-esque ride. "Walking with Jesus" is a twisted hymn from the artist formerly known as Jesus de la Cruz. (Actually, it's a Spacemen 3 cover. Duh.)

Midnight at Zochil's shows the Strange Attractors broadening their sonic palette and crafting ever-more-compelling song structures. For my two cents, it's the best thing they've done yet. Cop via Past/Futures Records on sweet, sweet vinyl or download.


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