Seattle’s Rose Windows describe themselves as “hard hitting hippies” on their Facebook page, and they mean it, especially the hippie part. The seven-piece band unapologetically strip-mines the rock music of the ’60s and ‘70s for its sound, but it doesn’t settle for the garage-rock riffs that have been resurrected by countless indie acts in recent years. Instead, Rose Windows goes for weirder stuff: the swirling organ of the Doors, the sinister blues guitar of Black Sabbath, the orchestral theatricality of prog-leaning bands like Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues. You can practically smell old dorm-room pot smoke as you listen.
The band was formed in 2010 by guitarist and songwriter Chris Cheveyo, who started exploring psychedelia and stoner sounds after a post-rock project of his fizzled out. He recruited a band, and after a year of writing and recording demos, the group was ready to record its first album. Local producer Randall Dunn was brought on board, and the result is Rose Windows’ just-released debut, The Sun Dogs. It’s a solemn—perhaps too solemn—and atmospheric effort with select moments of haunting beauty. Despite those, and despite a blockbuster performance by singer Rabia Shaheen Qazi, the record never manages to transcend its influences. Too often, The Sun Dogs sounds like just a collection of revived classic-rock moments.
Things get started on a rather portentous note with “The Sun Dogs I: Spirit Modules”, which opens with a whispery flute, a distant drum beat and Floyd-like vocals. The words are sung with the stilted formality of a religious chant, and the song ends with a wash of strings that sounds hokey rather than uplifting. The next track, “Native Dreams”, fares much better. This time, the flute hovers gently over a stomping beat that gives way to a wall of monster guitar riffage. A fat organ simmers underneath the song—it brings to mind the sound of Yes’s “Roundabout”—and Qazi delivers the first of many scorching vocal turns.
Another highlight is “Season of Serpents”, one of the simplest tracks on the album. It’s a lovely slice of gentle folk featuring acoustic guitar, flute and Qazi’s expressive voice. Other tracks reach for Importance-with-a-capital-I but collapse under their own weight. “Walkin’ With A Woman” and “This Shroud”, which clock in at over seven and nine minutes, respectively, quote from a number of epic stoner songs but never catch fire on their own.
This is a tough one for me. There’s talent all over The Sun Dogs. Cheveyo and company are top-notch musicians, and producer Dunn gives this music the space and clarity it needs. But for all the skill on display here, the album as a whole feels ponderous, weighted down by the more self-important tendencies of classic stoner rock. So consider this a flawed opening salvo from a band that could do great things in the future.