[6 September 2005]
It’s important to talk about the offshoot of the supposed garage rock revival of the last couple of years and where it’s taking us. We’ve perhaps underestimated the result of such a throwback period, where guitars and drums are all one needs to make a lot of noise and sound good doing it. The White Stripes are the obvious example but for every Cinderella story comes the slew of other ‘the’ bands then prompted to be something different, something more progressive, and if they don’t succeed they’ll be in the bargain bin before you can say “the Strokes”. I’ve noticed this progression to good effect in my local music community, and have begun to see said bands popping up with releases that sound one step ahead of the averagely straightforward garage rock with which we’ve been inundated.
The Immortal Lee County Killers 3 is one such band. It’s not so much that the band itself is a product of that “revival”—this band has been around, making wild rock ‘n’ roll with punk and blues attitude since 1999. It’s really a simple matter of what the trio has done with a once-simple music.
Drenched in the sweat of Jon Spencer (ILCK3 even cover “Revolution Summer” from Pussy Galore’s 1990 LP Historia de la Musica Rock), Chetley “Cheetah” Weise leads this guitar-drums-organ trio through the blistering, bluesy set of songs that comprise These Bones Will Rise to Love You Again. The result is both an examination of garage rock’s origins and a deconstruction of where it’s gone.
ILCK3 come to represent a reinterpretation of musical history, in a way. The band has not come to this by indulging in modernity. No, bands like this are modernity. ILCK3 could not exist without, say, Pink Floyd or more notably the Nuggets era of garage fusion, but the overall effect of this act is one of brash distinction, one recalling cramped juke joints reeking of sweat and beer. There is the rollick of Sun Studios rockabilly and other rural musics lingering in this pulse amidst the pills and whiskey that runs thick and black. There’s a stoned life awake and vibrant here; rough around the edges but so controlled, so loud and soft, so reverent in delivery. And despite the nature of songs such as the traditional “No More My Lord” (performed acapella in the style of field recording spirituals), ILCK3 bleeds the blues in the most obsessed way, somehow accessing through music that will largely be canonized as “rock” the duality of despair and love inherent in blues music; exposing rock’s devilish roots, per se. The opening verses to “Boom Boom” read,
Well the Hell I feel in my veins
When I listen to a record by Skip James
Well the love I feel in my veins
When I listen to her record by Skip James
In the back of my car
In the back of my van
Can you hear my heart explode
Cause I’m a man?
Literate and massive, ILCK3’s songs reach a peak with These Bones Will Rise to Love You Again. Perhaps it’s the fact that this record, while brash, is far less so than the band’s previous efforts. Perhaps it’s that, with These Bones, ILCK3 nurtures its wide-spanning influences in a more productive way, maintaining its sound but covering it with a laid-back psych haze not unlike the one we hear in records by B.R.M.C. and Dead Meadow (though I wouldn’t begin to say the music itself is very similar).
Or perhaps the fact that These Bones is more solid than anything ILCK3 has put out, and further, better than the product of most bands who will be lumped in with them, is best described in contrast instead of comparison. The organ lead and beautifully picked guitar of the quiet “Lights Down Low” sharply contrasts the opening “Turn on the Panther” with its gut-wrenching, gas-guzzling adrenaline. But it is this contrast, one which could be called ramshackle if it didn’t seem so meaningful, that characterizes this record; the distinction in solidification.
These Bones Will Rise to Love You Again is more than throwback, more than progression. It’s a record made by great minds, one as haunting (and haunted) as its title might suggest. The point is that for every inevitable White Stripes comparison that’s not really that valid (ILCK3 and the Whites perhaps share some particular musical loves), there deserves an R.L. Burnside, a Junior Kimbrough, a John Lee Hooker, even a Stooges reference for good measure. If this is not the case, ILCK3 is clearly under-acknowledged. It’s not that ILCK3 is as distinctive or innovative as these monolithic others. It’s more that these others seem to represent a much stronger comparison than those presently branching from the same roots as ILCK3.