Friday, March 15, 2019

Things we like: The Black Tones and Mythological Horses

I once asked the estimable Dave Crider (of Estrus Records and Mono Men fame) why so many great bands came out of the Pacific Northwest. Without hesitation, Dave replied, "Isolation."

Before Portlandia, before Sub Pop had a store in Sea-Tac Airport, before the PacNW became the epicenter of all things progressive, and harbinger of the gentrification and yuppification now sweeping the land, it was a backwater where rockaroll racket -- from the pre-Beatle frat-garage mania of the Wailers/Raiders/Kingsmen/Sonics, through the spacy genius of Hendrix (whom they say wasn't even the best guitarist in his Seattle neighborhood; musta been a helluva 'hood), to the grunge wave that started with Green River, crested with Nirvana/Pearl Jam/Soundgarden/Alice in Chains, and sends out ripples to this day in the form of the seemingly unsinkable Melvins and Mudhoney -- could germinate, free from the trendy demands of the Biz. The two bands under consideration here share that heritage, but their backstories are complicated.

The Black Tones are a twin sister and brother, Eva Walker (vocal and guitar) and Cedric David (drums), native Seattle-ites born into a family with Louisiana roots, who teethed on alt-rock as well as pop R&B growing up. The title of their album, Cobain and Cornbread -- their first full-length after eight years as a band, produced by grunge godfather Jack Endino -- reflects this dichotomy. What they aren't: just another White Stripes/Black Keys garage-blues melange -- although they did record a cover of Son House's "Grinnin' In Your Face" a couple of years back, and there's a harmonica-driven version of the venerable Jaybird Coleman gospel-blues "Rivers of Jordan" on this album.

For one thing, Eva can really sing, as she proves from the opening salvo of "Ghetto Spaceship" to the closing "Welcome Mr. Pink," which starts out punkish but winds up drifting into psychedelia. And they're conscious: "The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead)," replete with nasty fuzz-wah guitar worthy of early Funkadelic, is nothing less than a chant for post-BLM America, laying out the dilemma succinctly: "We want to go to school...We pay our taxes...We love our families...We want to go to work / They want us dead." My favorite item here, however, is "Striped Walls" -- a modern R&B song with rustic banjo accompaniment. The striking contrast encapsulates everything I like about this band; these twins are full of surprises.

Another duo, Mythological Horses are a long distance post-punk collaboration between guitarist-singer Shawn Holley, an Alaska native residing in Hawaii, and drummer Jest Commons (ex-Moldy Peaches), who docks in Port Townsend, Washington. Their sophomore outing, YYYMF, was produced by Tad Doyle of TAD fame (heaviest of the original grunge mob) and released by Portland-based indie Hovercraft Records. I'll admit to being a sucker for records with pictures of cats on them, so visual artist Heidi Estey's fetching character Frank the Cat definitely piqued my interest in this release. (This may have been intentional; you can buy Frank the Cat buttons from Mythological Horses' Bandcamp page.)

Spin the disc, and you'll hear propulsive riffs driven by primal crash-and-thump, overlaid with manic guitar strangling (kudos to ex-Fastbacks Kurt Bloch) and garage-snot vocals (dig "Sick and Tired," "Donnie Wiggins," or the claustrophobic "Hot Dog"). This bunch even flashes some power pop sweetness on "Get Lost," which isn't the kissoff you might expect from the title (full lyric: "I didn't mean to, but you asked me to / Get lost inside your eyes"), tossed off with casual abandon by guest vocalist Jess Brierly, who manages to steal the show wherever she appears, raging and spitting on "I Don't Want You Back" (which is what you might expect), shadowing Holley on the haunting grunge-country ditty "The Line." Come for the cacophony. stay for the songcraft.


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