[22 October 2008]
“This is more than just the blues / it’s depression rule”, sings Keenan Mitchell at the outset of “Wayward Son”. Sure is, right now. Economy’s so far in the toilet we’ll need more than just a plunger to extract it. “Depression” has moved from its former lone role of conjuring up memories from a time at the dawn of the dustbowl that most can’t remember, to a new low on the horizon.
Then again, Mitchell and Fareed Sajan, the duo behind Bottle Up & Go, are just college students. What business do they have singing such world-weary tunes? I can’t answer that, and it’s pointless to throw in clichés like, “they have old souls.” There’s certainly a question of legitimacy when someone who’s been legal for a year (or less) moans about reaching for the bottle. But, forgetting all that and focusing instead on the music (being a good critic this time out), These Bones is a tight, white-hot blast of dirty, noisy blues-rock.
BUAG (as MySpace affectionately calls them) manage that elusive feat of being a couple of young hipsters in love with the blues, without sounding like a couple of young hipsters in love with the blues. In other words, Mitchell and Sajan have avoided Kings of Leon and gone straight for The Black Keys. Well, straight for Leadbelly and Robert Johnson, really. In fact, Mr. Ledbetter’s song “Ain’t Going Down” appears on Bones as a cover, a radical departure from the original in which Mitchell’s voice drowns itself in echo and guest saxophonist Lucas Carrico does throws up a series of menacing squeals and ephemera. Carrico’s sax adds a novel new dimension to the dirty blues-rock formula, halfway between Gibby Haynes’ acidic long tones on early Butthole Surfer records, and James Chance’s contorted funk. The sax works best when busted in, secret weapon-style, as on “51 Weeks, 7 Days” and “Low”. Perhaps what works best about Bones is that BUAG aren’t married to the blues as a nostalgia trip. “These Bones” switches skins to grunge-punk, for one of those best songs Mudhoney never wrote. “Bones” is also a fantastic proving ground for Sajan, whose skin pounds are encompassing without being overwhelming, collapsing into cacophony when the higher power that punches through these songs demands it.
Remember that question about whether two college kids are the best prophets of sour times? Let’s just try to forget it. With music this shit-hot, the fact that Mitchell isn’t really a middle-aged dirt farmer with decades of liquor swilling under his belt is really a moot point. The vocals have the right level of distortion, just hot enough to give it some fuzz, and that’s really all that needs to be said, with the exception of one song on the album. “All My Trials” closes These Bones with the following lines: “Some say there’s a heaven / some say there’s a hell / I don’t know the first / But I have known the other well”. Yeah, it’s hard to hear something like that and not raise an eyebrow, perhaps, but the lyrics work well, and before you know it, Sylvia Ryerson’s violin weeps along, and then issues of precocity once again seem trivial. The world’s going down, and if BUAG can get inspired to move up, more power to them.