Next to Ian Williams of Don Caballero (and now Battles), Victor Villareal is one of the most of the most inventive guitarists in indie rock. Villareal’s astonishing guitar work was first on display in the legendary emo outfit, Cap’n Jazz. He next appeared on the Owls’ full-length, which was essentially Cap’n Jazz minus Promise Ring member Davey von Bohlen. On the side, he played in Ghosts & Vodka, an instrumental rock band that also had a Cap’n Jazz/Owls connection, with Sam Zurick taking second guitar duties. It would turn out that Ghosts & Vodka would be more prolific than Owls, releasing a full length and seven-inch before disbanding. Drunks & Addicts is a discography of this overlooked band, collecting their entire recorded output, as well as a bonus unreleased track.
Most instrumental bands lean in the prog/jazz direction of Tortoise (and their unending side projects) or towards the mathy proceedings of Don Caballero. What made Ghosts & Vodka so refreshing was the framework in which their songs were presented. Forgoing the faux-jazz and deliberately complex math rock of the Chicago post-whatever scene, Ghosts & Vodka wrapped up Victor Villareal’s tricky finger work in a pop framework, making the songs immediately accessible. It’ll only take a few moments after putting on this CD until your head is bobbing along and your inner air-guitarist is unleashed in all its embarrassing fury.
First, lets get the ugly stuff out of the way. Not everything that Ghosts & Vodka committed to tape was gold. Acoustic tracks like “Andrea Loves Horses” and “Nicholas Prefers Dinosaurs”, which bookend their Precious Blood full length, act as little more than fluff. Though the playing is competent, the tracks don’t move beyond nice-sounding filler.
Despite the virtuosity of Villareal’s handiwork, there are moments when songs are just so overloaded with technical guitar work that the hooks are lost in the guitar showcasing. “Sex Is Popular” and “Hot Dot Above, Tan Man Below” sadly suffer this fate. “Conversational All-Stars” and “Mechanical Bull Rider” are also defeated as failed experiments in creating “atmosphere”.
So, now you’re saying to yourself, “Six of these sixteen tracks are duds! Kevin, where’s the beef?” Well, I’m here to tell you that the remaining songs alone are worth the price. If you’re a guitarist, you will be shamed, and if you enjoy a good rock tune you may find your neck sore from repeated head banging. Best of all, Drunks & Addicts is a silver disc with one helluva party contained on it.
“Futuristic Genitalia” is just plain ridiculous in how good it is. There are enough pull-offs in the lead riff that I’m sure Jimi Hendrix is looking down from rock ‘n’ roll heaven and giving his respects. “Is That A Person?” feels like an outtake from Don Caballero’s masterful II. The beautiful middle act of this song contains some breathtaking distorted harmonics vying for equal attention alongside some thunderous riffing. “Cowboys and Sailors”, from the Memento Mori seven-inch single, is a pop gem that sounds like Eddie Van Halen jamming with Braid. It’s delightfully catchy but still finds moments to knock your jaw clean to the floor.
Bassist Eric Bocek and drummer Scott Shellhamer (a more appropriate surname for a drummer I have yet to find) wisely keep things simple, holding everything together with simple rhythm section work, rather than trying to compete with the dueling guitars.
Ghosts & Vodka were not the best instrumental rock band, but they were the most overlooked. In a scene that spawned countless imitators and watered-down variations on a quickly tiring theme, Ghosts & Vodka were a breath of fresh air. Unpretentious, yet with an instrumental prowess that matched the genre’s best, they infused their songs with a sense of fun and excitement that was sorely missing from a large portion of the instrumental rock band roster. For any fan of catchy rock music—instrumental or not—Drunks & Addicts is a must-have.
// Notes from the Road
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