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Awesome Color

Electric Aborigines

(Ecstatic Peace!; US: 29 Apr 2008; UK: 28 Apr 2008)

Let’s give a hearty thanks to Awesome Color, a Brooklyn trio originally from Michigan. They’ve gone and recorded an album for those people who lie awake at night wondering, “What if Jet didn’t suck so much?” The people still reeling from disappointment after secretly hoping the Stooges would deliver with The Weirdness. Probably the same people who assume the phrase “face-melting” should appear at least three times in any positive music review, and consider Electric Aborigines a great name for a rock album. 


And a rock album this is. Don’t be fooled by descriptions of “slamming yet surprisingly poppy astral hard-rock blues straight from the post millennial acorn” littering the band’s website—this is hard rock at its most immensely primitive and unpretentious, more indebted to the swagger of the Stooges or the New York Dolls than Black Sabbath. The album rejects variety and originality in favor of pure, unadulterated groove, perfectly exemplified by “Outside Tonight”, in which the singer’s pleas to “Come outside, baby, tonight!” alternate un-self-consciously with the guitarist’s furious soloing. On “Burning”, the singer’s growls atop the sustained guitar dissonance are a dead ringer for the Stooges’ “Down on the Street” or “Loose”; even the lyrics (“In Detroit / The fires burn / The demons watch / For his return / Burn it down!”) sound like something Iggy would moan mid-catharsis. 


The deafening sheet of white guitar noise that opens the album on “Eyes of Light” is quite possibly the album’s finest moment. The song’s relentlessly turbulent riff instantly recalls fellow Brooklyn band Parts & Labor, yet Awesome Color rarely maintain the unique arrangements and intensely raw production styles that make Parts & Labor or Times New Viking so much more engaging. The guitar noise-scapes of “Eyes of Light” evoke Sonic Youth quite a bit as well—unsurprising considering the band’s label, Ecstatic Peace!, was founded by a young, ambitious Thurston Moore in 1981. It’s unfortunate, then, that Awesome Color guitarist Derek Stanton all too often prefers short guitar-neck-strangling solos over noise experimentation. Much like—you guessed it—the Stooges’ Ron Asheton.


“Outside Tonight” and “Eyes of Light” are certainly not the only highlights to be found, though. “Evil Rose” is an effective closer, with its hypnotic barrage of Keith Moon-like drum fills accompanying an off-kilter yet melodic guitar riff. However, tracks like “Taste It” and “Do It Right” simply blend together in a ‘70s-immitating stew of tired noodling and lazy lyrics (sample chorus: “Let’s take our time / And do it right / Tonight / Do it right”). The biggest problem with Electric Aborigines is not that it’s so hopelessly derivative (hell, the Black Crowes made a career of ripping off classic rockers), but rather that Awesome Color rarely rise above their influences and match the feral intensity that made Fun House or Kick Out the Jams sound so gloriously, brutally unhinged. Naturally, Awesome Color need not record their own “L.A. Blues” equivalent, but a less stifling production would be one welcome change from this vaguely unsatisfying classic rock revivalism. As it is, the one-dimensional melody and blandly straight-ahead production values of “Already Down” sound trapped halfway between the Strokes and X, an unappealing musical no man’s land for all involved.


Then again, for those seeking a piece of meaty, booze-soaked riff rock with a decadent edge, Electric Aborigines certainly meets the mark. But flip through a list of rock review clichés, and I suspect more than a few could be applied to Awesome Color: “wears their influences on their sleeve,” for example, or the old “better live than on record” adage, if YouTube videos are any indication. Unoriginality should by no means be equated with worthlessness, and Awesome Color’s sound implies a blissful disregard toward any criticism of its derivative nature. If they are unable to “step up” from this derivative nature, at least they have some other plans lined up. Says drummer Allison Busch: “If the music thing doesn’t pan out I figure we’ll be lawyers and teachers and help people learn to sue people and read.”

Rating:

Zach Schonfeld is an associate editor for PopMatters and a reporter for Newsweek. Previously, he was an editorial fellow at The Atlantic Wire and graduated from Wesleyan University, birthplace of Das Racist, MGMT, and the nineteenth-century respiration calorimeter, where he served as the editor of Wesleying, a popular student-life blog. In his spare time, he enjoys visiting presidential birthplaces and teaching his dog to tweet. In addition to PopMatters, his writing has appeared online at Rolling Stone, TIME, Consequence of Sound, The Nation, USA Today College, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Rumpus, Paste Magazine, and the Hartford Courant. He can be reached at zschonfeld(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @zzzzaaaacccchhh.


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