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The Old Haunts

Fallow Field

(Kill Rock Stars; US: 12 Apr 2005; UK: 11 Apr 2005)

Gnarly

The Old Haunts are an excitable bunch, enthusiasts of muddy hued garage rock that rumbles and stumbles like the after-effects of an unexpected electrical shock. Their restless rhythmic attack, greatly informed by the robust riffage of ‘60s British underdogs like the Creation, is at once sloppy and snarly, alternately twisted into gnarls and unraveled like defeated vines. Asserting allegiance to minor chords, fuzz bass eighth notes, naturally distorted guitars, and barreling arpeggio stutters, the Olympia, Washington trio plays like it’s caught between disparate decades.


They don’t sound confused, just eager to hear the cones in the amps crackle and the metallic edges of the drum kit incur the wrath of the sound waves. When Craig Extine’s guitar starts mouthing off a “Paint It Black” figure in “Deflect It”, all that Scott Seckington and Danny Sasaki want to do is bounce it around the room with drum and bass lurches. Extine hits back with a slithering, sneering vocal that’s all reedy exclamation and no melody, a thin one-note howl squeezed from his chest in tandem with the conservatively accentuated rhythm.


That’s the racquetball recoil of the Old Haunts’ debut album, Fallow Field, in a nutshell. The scope of the record really doesn’t expand beyond the nutshell; as much as the band digs into its crumbling shanty of sound, it rarely looks beyond the façade. The same brash, fuzzy faced formula is martially executed throughout Fallow Field‘s dozen tracks. The energy is there, tangible and traceable, but the concept is recycled ad infinitum—as the record progresses, there’s a nagging feeling of being stuck on the same boundless tract. The Old Haunts have found what is ostensibly their identity (reminding us of their discovery on track after track), yet little is done to really investigate outside of a relatively conservative definition.


Any one of Fallow Field‘s songs stands up well on its own, representing a snug halfway point between bands like Dead Meadow and the White Stripes. “By the Bay” and “Walk Through the Woods” curl and cramp up like the Yardbirds on weak acid, Seckington’s bass and Sasaki’s drums staggering around on Pacific Northwest-booted feet. “It’s So Scandalous” is a near-prototype of the sludgy rock responsible for kicking open the doors to metal and punk: it doesn’t fit into either genre, but feels like rock music bored with itself, inconsolable and unsatisfied, ready to make that leap to something different. “The Old World”, one of Fallow Field‘s six songs to feature a different drummer than Sasaki, may be the record’s most uncharacteristic and satisfying track. It features a discernable melody reinforced by guitar, bass, and piano, echoing the minor key smolder of the Animals and—for what is perhaps the one and only time in the record’s duration—offering something to relish in and return to.


Absorbed all at once, Fallow Field is just so ordinarily redundant. It’s not a taxing or exasperating listen, merely one that begins and ends at roughly the same place. If the barrage of prickly instruments and nagging vocals feels fresh in one moment, it’s stale (or just commonplace) at another; without melodies or other contemplated complexities, there’s not much to remember at the record’s end. It’s difficult, too, to begin a discourse about the lyrical elements of Fallow Field, since Extine’s yelps obscure many of the words. The Old Haunts, then, are judged by the racket they make: in small doses an endearing, scruffy haired noise, but dangerously close to a racket all the same.

Rating:

Zeth Lundy has been writing for PopMatters since 2004. He is the author of Songs in the Key of Life (Continuum, 2007), and has contributed to the Boston Phoenix, Metro Boston, and The Oxford American. He lives in Boston.


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