Rough-hewn roots rock from Vancouver
There must be something in the weather up there where Washington State turns into Canada, something that makes it a hospitable home to guitar hero bands from Built to Spill to Silkworm to Yume Bitsu. Maybe it’s the constant drizzle that shows up in the fizz and pop of guitar amplifiers, or the rumble of thunder that’s echoed in mountainous riffs. There’s the constant beautiful melancholy of fog and the drift and low expectations, just distorted enough to burst into occasional unexpected rainbows. Ladyhawk, the latest band to emerge woozily from this scene, stand hip-deep in aching guitar riffs, buffeted by emotion and suffering the pains of ordinary life.
Recorded with a rough and unmediated live sound, the band’s debut is by turns melancholic and boisterous. Singer Duffy Driediger has a memorably weathered voice, rasping with feeling and fraying a little into vibrato at the exuberant choruses. Darcy Hancock, who plays lead guitar, is the other key factor, cranking out the monstrous riffs and squalling waves of feedback that define the album. The band’s rhythm section—Sean Hawryluk on bass and Ryan Peters on drums—are locked in, unobtrusive but tightly containing these raucous songs. Amber Webber and Josh Wells of Black Mountain step in for extra vocals, percussion and organ, though the connection between the bands seems more personal than musical.
Ladyhawk is roused, once or twice, to joyous anarchy, in the buoyant guitar crunch and peal of “The Dugout” and the happy-go-lucky strut of “My Old Jacknife”; but for the most part these songs feel like downbeat epiphanies won through hard drinking. Cuts like the lengthy, hallucinatory “Long Until the Morning” whistle through empty corridors of sound, mystically distilling loneliness into the silence that follows crashing guitars. “Advice” could be a Silkworm slow rocker, its slow guitar chords building sadly under bitter, bitter words, stopping suddenly, then picking up again. It’s a character song, with the protagonist apparently an older, more cynical musician, the kind of person who’s burnt through every filament of his own good feeling and wants to start working on yours. Hedonism has never sounded more depressing than when he says,
Don’t you worry, ‘cos time will pass quickly, /
Soon you’ll be 50, /
Soon you’ll be dead, /
So smoke if you want to, /
And drink up your fill, /
Your good looks are fading fast, /
So fuck who you will.
More uplifting but just as sad is “Sad Eyes / Blue Eyes”, its plain-spoken drumming punctuating heart-sore lyrics like “You broke the backs you rode upon”. And “Teenaged Love” frames torn-from-life images—a girlfriend’s bitchy mother, sex on a parent’s empty bed—with ragged stabs of guitar.
Fans of new country rockers like Centro-Matic and Oakley Hall will immediately fall into step with Ladyhawk, as will lovers of old-style electric roots outfits like Crazy Horse and Uncle Tupelo. Others, especially those corrupted by a constant flow of gimmicks, may find that this very unflashy recording takes some time to warm up to. It’s a slow burner, gaining weight and heft through repetition, and if you put it on when it’s been raining for days, it will worm its way right into your soul.