Thursday, January 24, 2013

Album Review: California X's Self-Titled

What should you expect from a band with a drummer nicknamed "Cool" and comparisons to Dinosaur Jr, even sharing a birthplace with the Alternative legends? Loud rock and great riffs coming fast and loose. California X deliver a winning effort with their eponymous debut album for Don Giovanni Records.

From the instant "Sucker" bombards with kick drum and heavy guitar, California X feels familiar: that heavy sound making you grit your teeth. The riffs here are catchy enough to carry entire songs, much like how Yuck was able to do so by using only a handful of licks per song, never showing their full hand. But where Yuck failed to keep up a driving momentum, writing slower songs to accentuate the quicker ones, California X focus more on keeping people moving than a shift in dynamics. Though, the songs that do yield a little bit - "Pond Rot", "Lemmy's World", "Mummy" - are the better cuts from the record, resonating more than the others. The rest of the record is consistent in building up those memorable guitar lines, sometimes making the verses feel tacked on for lyrical purposes - this is understandable due to the saccharine nature of the guitar lines, being careful not to over sweeten songs with these catchy instrumental breaks. But it ends up being the instrumental breaks on the record that serve more purpose than the lyrics do, staying with you long after the words are digested.

What helps portray the larger, louder than studio sound on California X is the production of the drums. The drums are huge, filling a lot of the space on this record - the opening to "Lemmy's World" is a salient example. The drums are, in a lot of ways, an ersatz Steve Albini recording; and anything close to Albini-level drums should be considered an accomplishment. With a lot of the songs featuring a two-chord progression, the drums help move things along and keep the songs from settling. The vocals have the same filling effect as the drums in the mix, existing mostly as ethereal musings and nothing reveling in ennui like J Mascis often does. California X sounds a lot more fulfilled, or content, than any Dino Jr releases, when it comes to the vocals.

This is a sturdy debut from a band trying to escape its influences as much as it is comfortable with them - a dichotomy more and more bands are trying to decide which side to lean toward. California X is best when it's thoughtful, though, taking its time in the muck. And I can see California X getting better with touring, allowing songs to spawn out of their live show; a band like this can only benefit from turning up the amps, beating the drums, and letting adrenaline get the best of them.

Final Grade: B

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