[16 July 2009]
Yes, the band shares a name with early incarnations of the Grateful Dead, Velvet Underground and – let us not forget—ZZ Top. And its sound does aggressively recall critical darlings My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Plus, would-be mastermind Bobby Hecksher has played with both the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Beck. But the Warlocks fail to live up to its impressive pedigree on its fifth proper album, The Mirror Explodes, a dim facsimile of its heroes’ brilliance.
Since forming in Los Angeles in 1999, the Warlocks have persisted long enough to see the success of several bands doing the same dreamy, fuzz-rock shtick (most notably the Black Angels and the Raveonettes) without finding much success. Perhaps Bobby Hecksher and co. didn’t deserve to lose its contract with Mute after the commercial failure of the 2005 album Surgery, but the acute listlessness of the its subsequent output has done little to bolster regard for Tee Pee Records, former home of the band’s old buddies Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Since signing to Tee Pee, the Warlocks have altered its sound slightly, abandoning the straight side two of White Light/White Heat homage that characterized its early material in favor of a lateral move into shoegaze. The Mirror Explodes finds Bobby Hecksher fronting an entirely new cast of sidemen through a wholly monochromatic set of eight fuzzy, reverb-drenched and indistinguishable tunes.
Like Kevin Shields, Hecksher keeps his vocals soft and distant, just another instrument meant to mesh with the white noise of the Warlocks’ three-guitar assault. The lyrics are mostly indistinguishable, save a fleeting reference to a hospital on “Red Camera” and oblique statements of alienation and misery on “There is a Formula to Your Despair”, all in keeping with the group’s druggy persona and the oppressively dreary soundscapes.
The songs have no peaks or valleys, just a constant drone that eventually yields to the next track without fanfare. Everything is at the same dirge-like tempo, making the record seem to be one extended, formless jam. When the vocals drop out completely for an instrumental showcase on “Frequency Meltdown”, the band neglects to alter its formula, stubbornly soldiering on with the same pointless meandering. Thankfully, the band refrains from the extended jams that showed up on their previous albums, never making any cut last much over six minutes, arbitrarily ending most around the five-minute mark.
Such apparently amorphous monotony would be forgivable if repeated listens revealed some sort of intention or structure or if Hecksher imbued his music with any sort of meaning. No amount of time with the disc, however, will make The Mirror Explodes any less impenetrable. Apparently, Hecksher just likes his music noisy, druggy and slow. And that doesn’t make for a listening experience any more compelling than it sounds.